Merck hosts first “Bilharzia Storytelling Lab” to support elimination efforts in Kenya

  • Merck hosts online workshop for the development of innovative awareness raising tools for bilharzia in Kenya.
  • Conclusion of the Storytelling Lab coincides with the second World Neglected Tropical Disease Day on January 30th.
  • The most promising solution will be implemented through a 10.000 USD grant provided by Merck.

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 29, 2021,-/African Media Agency (AMA)/- Merck, a leading science and technology company, announced that it hosts its first Bilharzia Storytelling Lab in Kenya. The lab is a three-day workshop bringing together 30 Kenyan community leaders and storytellers. The participants are working on the task to develop new innovative ways of storytelling to empower and inform risk groups on prevention and/or treatment of bilharzia. 

More than 240 million people worldwide require treatment for the neglected tropical disease (NTD) bilharzia (also known as schistosomiasis or snail fever), and it is estimated that 200,000 people die from the consequences of their long-term infections each year. The parasitic disease has particularly severe impact on children by stunting growth, causing learning disabilities, and leading to anemia. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most cases of bilharzia are found in sub-Saharan Africa (92%). The disease continues to also seriously affect local communities in Kenya.

“Bilharzia remains a serious health issue in our country. To tackle this disease, it is necessary to treat the population on a regular basis. Empowering affected communities by providing information on bilharzia and NTDs is another crucial step in reaching elimination under our “Breaking Transmission Strategy”. I truly welcome the commitment of Merck, to provide regular treatments and now hosting the Bilharzia Storytelling Lab. Being one of the judges, I am very much looking forward to seeing the different solutions the teams will propose,” said Dr. Sultani Matendechero, Head, Division of Vector Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases at Ministry of Health Kenya.

Since 2007, Merck is committed to tackle bilharzia and has already donated 1.3 billion tablets of praziquantel to endemic countries in partnership with WHO. The company’s praziquantel donations enabled the treatment of 520 million school-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya is one of the recipient countries since 2011 and has been provided with 19.7 million praziquantel tablets to date. Merck is working towards the elimination of this insidious disease, through a comprehensive approach, together with its international partners. Merck’s integrated approach combines provision of treatment, research and development, as well as WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and health education initiatives. As part of its efforts to raise awareness on the causes of bilharzia and ways to prevent it, Merck has introduced the concept of the Bilharzia Storytelling Lab.

The lab builds on the human-centered design thinking approach, developed by Dalberg, a mission-driven communications and experience consultancy, which seeks to empower and mobilize people to solve global development challenges by collective, sustained action. The approach puts the risk group at the core of the solutions development. Throughout three weeks, the participants work with local experts from the creative sector, health organizations and non-profits to ensure solutions are rooted in reality.

“We are very excited to start our Storytelling Lab in Kenya and gather leading storytellers and community leaders to collaborate on solutions that will bring down the number of people affected by bilharzia. At Merck, we do not limit our commitment to providing treatment alone. We know about the importance of awareness raising in order to see a decrease in infection rates. The Storytelling Lab is the next important step in upscaling our activities in the prevention of infection with bilharzia through health education,” says Johannes Waltz, Head of the Merck Schistosomiasis Elimination Program and Director of Strategy and Finance at the Global Schistosomiasis Alliance (GSA).

Six teams, consisting of 30 Kenyan community leaders and storytellers are working on the challenge to develop innovative tools to raise awareness on bilharzia among risk groups. The three main risk groups as defined by WHO are domestic workers, particularly women doing household work in infested waters, agricultural workers and school-aged children. These are the three risk groups that the lab will address in developing storytelling projects to ignite behavioral change. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Storytelling Lab is rolled-out virtually.

The Storytelling Lab concludes on the second World NTD Day, January 30th, 2021. This international day marks an important annual event to raise public awareness of the serious impact NTDs have all over the world. The World NTD Day is supported by over 230 international partners including Merck to put the spot on NTDs, raising awareness and calling for action to tackle NTDs. In addition, this day is the starting point in a decisive year for NTDs with WHO just having launched a new NTD roadmap, setting goals for 2030. The World NTD Day has been chosen as the final day for the Bilharzia Storytelling Lab. On that day, all teams will pitch their suggested projects to a jury and the most promising solution will be awarded with an implementation support of 10.000 USD. Merck has confirmed that it intends to apply the concept of the Bilharzia Storytelling Lab in other endemic countries in the future.

Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of Merck.

About schistosomiasis
Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) is one of the most prevalent parasitic diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, caused by parasitic flatworms called schistosomes. It affects almost 240 million people, mainly in communities without access to safe drinking water and with poor sanitation, with an estimated number of deaths of about 200,000 per year. The parasites live within freshwater snails and infect humans by penetrating the skin. The disease can lead to chronic inflammation of the organs, which can be fatal but also to anaemia, stunted growth and impaired learning ability with devastating consequences for the lives of the young children. The infection rate is particularly high among school-aged children. Praziquantel is the only active ingredient with which all forms of schistosomiasis can be treated. WHO has therefore deemed praziquantel, the most cost-efficient solution for the health of patients in need, as the drug of choice.

About the Merck Schistosomiasis Elimination Program
Merck initiated the praziquantel donation in cooperation with WHO back in 2007. Since then, more than 1.3 billion tablets have been donated, enabling the treatment of 520 million school-aged children. Merck has committed itself to maintaining its efforts in the fight against the tropical disease until schistosomiasis has been eliminated. To this end, each year Merck is donating up to 250 million praziquantel tablets, the standard treatment for schistosomiasis, to endemic countries through WHO. The planned annual donation has a value of US$ 32.5 million. The donation builds the main strategic pillar of the Merck Schistosomiasis Elimination Program. The company also supports awareness programs at schools in Africa in order to educate children about the causes of schistosomiasis and ways to prevent it. Over time, through the Global Health Institute, Merck has also developed a portfolio of R&D projects for innovative drugs, including a new pediatric formulation for preschool-age children, sensitive diagnostics as well as new technologies for transmission controls. More information about the Merck Schistosomiasis Elimination Program is available at All Merck Press Releases are distributed by e-mail at the same time they become available on the Merck Website. Please go to to register online, change your selection or discontinue this service.

All Merck Press Releases are distributed by e-mail at the same time they become available on the Merck Website. Please go to to register online, change your selection or discontinue this service.

About Merck
Merck, a leading science and technology company, operates across healthcare, life science and performance materials. Around 57,000 employees work to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day by creating more joyful and sustainable ways to live. From advancing gene editing technologies and discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices – the company is everywhere. In 2019, Merck generated sales of € 16.2 billion in 66 countries.
Scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship have been key to Merck’s technological and scientific advances. This is how Merck has thrived since its founding in 1668. The founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed company. Merck holds the global rights to the Merck name and brand. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the business sectors of Merck operate as EMD Serono in healthcare, MilliporeSigma in life science, and EMD Performance Materials.

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Source : African Media Agency (AMA)

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