Global pharma firm appoints South African MD to lead sub-Saharan Africa operations

PUBLISHED: Thu, 28 Jan 2021 07:00:16 GMT

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International healthcare and pharmaceuticals group MSD ( has appointed Zwelethu Bashman to be the next managing director of its operations in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Mr Bashman will succeed Dr Priya Agrawal, who has been appointed chief behavioural science officer in global vaccines in the international operations of the company.

Zwelethu joined MSD South Africa as director for HIV and vaccines in 2019. MSD successes during his tenure included the signing of voluntary license agreements with other healthcare companies to allow the marketing of generic versions of its HIV medication, expanding access to treatment for people living with HIV/Aids in Africa.

Prior to joining MSD, Zwelethu held various roles within the pharmaceuticals sector. He started his career in the industry at Schering-Plough in 2006, where he worked in sales and product management. His commercial experience grew at Adcock Ingram, where he led the commercial division.

Between 2017 and 2019, Zwelethu expanded his responsibilities into the continent, leading the key account operations for Cipla Pharmaceuticals across Sub-Saharan Africa, before leading marketing for English and Portuguese-speaking African countries at Merck Biopharma.

Zwelethu’s appointment aligns with MSD’s succession planning and the Company’s commitment to internal staff career development. Zwelethu is well positioned to build on a successful year for MSD. The company has seen its Keytruda immunotherapy cancer treatment approved for further indications – offering hope for cancer patients. It has also signed investment agreements with Unjani Clinics, aimed at expanding the Unjani network to bring primary and maternal healthcare services as well as jobs and skills to underserved communities across South Africa.

Dr Agrawal’s tenure saw her successfully steer MSD through the challenging pandemic period, ensuring that the company’s vital clinical trials continued, with added PPE and safety requirements, but without any patients missing a dose throughout the lockdown.

Zwelethu will look to continue MSD’s Africa strategy, which has seen the company invested heavily in finding scientific solutions to the world’s most challenging diseases. MSD has conducted 1 250 clinical trials and invested more than $80 million in research and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. MSD’s Ebola vaccine has been given to more than 300 000 patients and it has administered more than 3,4 billion doses of Mectizan to fight river blindness, while MSD’s HPV vaccine continues to contribute toward cervical cancer elimination.

“I am thrilled to have been chosen to head up the MSD leadership team,” said Zwelethu. “My predecessor, Priya, has overseen a period of unprecedented change in South Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa, and I look forward to building on her foundational work.”

Zwelethu Bashman will assume his new position from February 1, 2021.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of MSD.

Media Contact: Neren Rau (011- 655 3028)

About MSD: For more than a century, MSD (, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for the world’s most challenging diseases. MSD is a trade name of Merck & Co., Inc., with headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, MSD continues to be at the forefront of research to advance the prevention and treatment of diseases that threaten people and communities around the world – including cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases, emerging animal diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and infectious diseases including HIV and Ebola. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter (

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