Merck Foundation Grant Helps Expand Project ECHO

The Merck Foundation commits to a $7 million grant to expand virtual health clinics in India and Vietnam

In 2003, Dr. Sanjeev Arora, a liver disease specialist and social entrepreneur at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque, created a program which links expert medical specialist teams at academic hubs with primary care clinicians in local communities.

Called Project ECHO (short for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), the initiative improves the way medical education is delivered to people in rural and underserved communities. Project ECHO is a telementoring model that links expert specialists with primary care providers through virtual clinics (teleECHO clinics), where the specialists mentor and share their knowledge, enabling primary care providers to develop the ability to treat local patients with complex conditions.

The Merck Foundation is pleased to announce it is helping this movement expand in India and Vietnam with a $7 million grant. Given the significant need to improve health care throughout India and Vietnam, this project, which will span over five years, has four central goals:

  • Further develop ECHO superhubs in India to provide training and technical assistance;
  • Develop and expand ECHO hubs (specialty teams at academic medical centers or other care centers) across India and Vietnam in targeted communities;
  • Work with hubs in India and Vietnam to develop and implement training programs for community health care workers to further expand access to treatment and care; and
  • Document the impact of the ECHO model on improving access to specialty care for patients in rural and underserved areas in India and Vietnam.

“At Merck, we value and support our partners who are experimenting with new health care models and technologies aimed at solving complex health problems,” said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, chief patient officer, Merck, and chief executive officer, Merck Foundation. “Project ECHO will help to make a meaningful impact on patients living with chronic conditions in India and Vietnam by empowering local providers with the specialized medical knowledge they need.”

As part of the initiative, a community health worker program will be developed to further expand access to appropriate care in rural communities. The community health workers will join the more than 3,000 doctors, nurses and community health workers currently enrolled in Project ECHO’s comprehensive disease management programs. To date, Project ECHO has operated more than 90 hubs for more than 45 diseases and conditions in 16 countries outside the United States.

“We are incredibly grateful for this generous donation from the Foundation,” says Dr. Arora. “Strengthening the skills and capabilities of primary care providers in rural or remote settings helps to ensure patients receive the right care at the right place and the right time.”