Conflict, resulting in instability and the breakdown of social support structures can increase the risk of HIV. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has long recognised that many of the people it serves are made vulnerable by these factors and have responded by working together in partnership with companies such as Merck & Co Inc.
Merck has worked together with UNHCR in a range of refugee health programs. In Angola, Merck funding helped UNHCR develop and disseminate HIV information and education materials as well as organise HIV awareness raising events for Angolan returnees and their host communities. The programme has reached thousands of individuals in these communities who had never heard of HIV or AIDS. In Zambia, UNHCR conducted behavioral surveillance surveys among Congolese refugees. The result of the survey has helped UNHCR to better target HIV programmes for refugees in Zambia, and to plan for programmes in areas of return in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 2004, Merck and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) joined efforts to deliver the latest nursing knowledge and training to health professionals working with refugees in Africa through the Nursing Library Project–which provides self-contained Nursing Libraries for Refugee Health to refugee operations in the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. The ready-made portable libraries include the latest nursing and health-care information and training materials to improve the skills of health professionals in the field.
Merck’s involvement in refugee health programmes is not limited to sub-Saharan Africa. The Merck Foundation has also supported UNHCR to produce specific HIV information-educationcommunication materials in Arabic for use in the Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, with Merck support, UNHCR is also working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Female Health Foundation to introduce the female condom in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal.