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MSD helps make medicine affordable to the needy

MSD volunteers on their trip to Cambodia to help a non-profit organisation which provides sustainable clean water to villages.


THE mention of pharmaceutical companies conjures up images of a massive company churning out medicines like colourful sweets.

But one company is looking to put a human touch on that clinical facade.

Through its philanthropic programmes, MSD Singapore is aiming to change the way pharmaceutical companies are viewed. With a company-wide focus on volunteerism and giving back, the company wants to show it can play the role of a large corporate entity and have a heart, too.

MSD first established its Singapore office in 1993, focusing on marketing before expanding into drug manufacturing at its Tuas campus. In 2007, the company chose Singapore as its Asia-Pacific headquarters and today employs over 2,000 people across its seven sites here.

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Giving back to society through targeted programmes and employee-driven volunteerism is a key aspect of the company's charitable focus. According to Brian Henry, executive director for early discovery pharmacology, the company exceeded its goal of reaching 125,000 recorded hours to mark MSD's 125th anniversary in 2016.

"Singapore employees contributed 960 hours in total, and across the company, we did not just achieve the goal of 125,000 volunteer hours globally, but exceeded our goal and committed 144,794 man hours worldwide," he said.

MSD employees have gone a step further and started their own internal volunteer group. The MSD Singapore Volunteer Committee was started this year by 20 employees. It oversees the development and execution of the company's philanthropic activities.

"Philanthropy is an important component of our company's commitment to corporate responsibility," said Mr Henry.

All employees have the opportunity to take up to 40 hours of paid time off annually to engage in volunteer activities, with staff going to developing countries such as the Philippines and Cambodia to offer their time and services.

"Earlier this year, I travelled with MSD colleagues to Cambodia to volunteer for a non-profit organisation providing sustainable clean water to villages," said Mr Henry.

"It was a deeply rewarding experience as we were able to work together as a team on a project that had immediate and life-altering benefit to families in Cambodia."

MSD also provides paid leave for employees to volunteer under the Merck Fellowship for Global Health programme, an initiative which covers the company's offices around the globe.

First started in 2012, the programme has since seen 130 Fellows from 15 countries work for 33 nonprofit organisations around the world. Under the scheme, chosen employees undergo a three-month, field-based attachment to a non-profit organisation which matches the employee's skills with the needs of the nonprofit organisation. This year, the company will be fielding 30 employees from 14 countries.

"As with previous years, we select a diverse and accomplished cohort of colleagues from all around the world, who are ready to put their skills and experience to work in order to make a difference to people in need," says MSD Fellowship lead Christine Funk.

In Singapore, MSD also aims to help the needy with their medication through reducing medicine costs. The MSD Assist programme was launched in 2013, and the company says it is the first drug subsidy programme offered by any pharmaceutical company in Singapore.

It complements the existing Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) and Pioneer Generation (PG) scheme.

Through the programme, MSD makes common medicines more accessible to patients who otherwise can't afford them. The initiative also helps participating doctors and their patients alike.

Eligible patients receive up to 50 per cent discount for selected MSD medicines. The scheme covers 24 medicines for 17 common medical conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

"Through a sustainable strategy and working in partnership with the healthcare professionals, our objective is to lessen the financial burden on patients in need," said Samuel Koh, director of market access, Policy & Communications.

The company has no plans to slow down its volunteer efforts this year. In August, the 20-man MSD Volunteer Committee is embarking on its most ambitious project to date.

Called Singapore Volunteer Day, each of the company's seven locations in Singapore have adopted a beneficiary and have allowed their employees to volunteer their time on this day.

By holding this countrywide event, it "will create the path for us to hold this event at a larger scale next year in the Asia-Pacific region", said Mr Henry.

"This year, we strive to maintain our volunteering momentum and to keep making a difference in people's lives."

  • This article is part of a series covering companies contributing towards under-served causes. The Business Times supports NVPC's Company of Good programme as media partner. Go to for more information. Company of Good is in support of SGCares, a national movement dedicated to supporting the goodwill of Singaporeans and to guide them to better help those in need.

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