Meet Merck physician and volunteer Dr. Mo Ali: “We are here to serve the people we look after, I cannot stand by and watch this.”
Merck employee puts work on hold, now helping care for patients in London
April 1, 2020
In light of the pandemic, Merck has changed its volunteer policy to support employees like Dr. Ali with medical backgrounds. Recognizing the need for additional health care professionals, including doctors, nurses and medical laboratory technicians, to assist in regions where COVID-19 is spreading, on March 21 the company deployed a new program to enable our medically trained employees to volunteer their time to aid their communities while maintaining their base pay.
Merck’s Dr. Muhammed “Mo” Ali, like so many other physicians, wasn’t a stranger to a new infectious disease. Dr. Ali was with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) in 2009 during the swine flu pandemic. As part of NHS then, he had seen the country’s emergency plans.
Fast forward to today, Dr. Ali had left his full-time role with the NHS in 2017 to join Merck. But he was in the U.K. in February when COVID-19 was spreading across Europe and the UK. He knew this was not a drill. And he knew he had to help.
Usually, Dr. Ali spends most of his weekdays as Merck’s managing director of Norway. On weekends, he is an active partner and medical doctor at a general practitioner’s office in Harrow, a large suburban town in greater London.
On February 28, Dr. Ali had scheduled one of his recurring visits back to London after having just attended a conference in Switzerland. He could see what was happening. At that point, Dr. Ali made up his mind that he wanted to stay to treat patients. In an email sent February 28, Dr. Ali asked his direct supervisor if he could stay. “Ethically there’s no way I can step away from this now. I can’t leave them at this stage. These are my patients as well.”
The first week of March, the NHS of London asked local physicians to pull out their emergency plans. The week of March 9, numbers had accelerated more than expected. Dr. Ali said, “It became very clear that this was headed in the wrong direction.”
Early on, Dr. Ali had some tough decisions to make. He had to quarantine from his parents-in-law and sister-in-law, telling them that “you might not likely survive this, and I can’t be the cause of that.”
The neighborhood in which Dr. Ali serves is the epicenter of London right now. The local hospitals ran out of beds right away. The virus has spread so quickly that the health care center is overwhelmed. In one week’s time, a new 4,000 bed ICU is expected to be completed and ready for use. It’s a case of preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.
Dr. Ali wants everyone to know there is a light at the end of this tunnel. He used to see 10% of his patients via video calls and was in the minority. Now the majority operate near 100% digital means. While these may seem like the darkest of days, “This will be the reason behind building a new health care system,” says Dr. Ali. “We’re making history at the moment, just not the history we want to be a part of.” Even so, Dr. Ali sees an opportunity for goodness to rise out of this “to reform, rebuild and regenerate a system fit for the future.”