Dr Rasha Kelej; the 100 most Influential Africans; CEO of Merck Foundation

Special Interview of Africa News Magazine march Edition

Dr Rasha Kelej, please tell us how do you feel to be listed amongst the 100 most influential Africans?

I am very proud to be listed among the 100 most Influential Africans of 2019. This recognition is very important for me and for Merck foundation as it acknowledges my efforts, my team’ s efforts through our Merck More Than a Mother and acknowledges it as a huge Movement. It is a historic campaign. We succeeded to mobilize and work closely with African First Ladies and Ministries of Health, Gender, Information and Education, media, Art, fashion, community leaders and scientists to empower infertile women through information, health and change of mindset.

We also worked with local singers, film-makers, media partners and fashion designers to be able to raise awareness to break the stigma of infertility. Through these initiatives we wish to sensitize our communities that Women are more than Just Mothers and Men are more than Just Fathers. Also, it takes both a man and a woman to have a child.

We have produced and launched more than 20 songs with famous singers from Burundi, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Gambia to raise awareness about male infertility and to break the Stigma around Infertility in Africa. Moreover, it is also an honour for us to have the First Lady of Burundi, H. E. First Lady of Burundi and The President of Liberia, H.E. George Weah do their own songs for our campaign. This shows their commitment towards our campaign.

We also launched children story in African countries. The story has been localized and launched in the elementary level school of many African Countries with message from their respective First Lady, as ambassadors of Merck more than a Mother and special message from me in English, French and Portuguese. And local names and narratives have be adapted for each country.

Merck Foundation’s children storybook emphasizes on strong family values of love and respect from young age which will reflect on eliminating the stigma of infertility and resulted domestic violence in the future.

  • Tell us about the work you have been doing in Ethiopia.

I feel very proud to tell you about the success story of the only two IVF centers in Ethiopia; the first public IVF in addition to the first IVF center in Ethiopia.

As part of the ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ campaign, Merck Foundation provided the training for the 3 embryologist and 2 fertility specialists who run the public IVF in addition to the 2 embryologists who run the other IVF Center. We not only made history in Ethiopia but are creating a legacy and shaping the landscape of fertility care by training first local fertility specialists and embryologists in Ethiopia.

Recently our alumni members shared with us the photos of the first two IVF babies and expressed their gratitude towards Merck Foundation emphasizing that they never had such hands-on training before Merck Foundation fertility specialists and embryologist training. I cannot express to you my happiness over this.

In addition to the above mentioned 7 candidates, 4 more candidates from Ethiopia are currently undergoing Embryology and Fertility Training. Also, Merck Foundation has trained 3 candidates in Oncology speciality and enrolled a candidate for Post-Graduation Diploma in Diabetes Management. We will continue to train more doctors from Ethiopia in the fields of fertility, cancer and diabetes care.

Moreover, as part of Merck More Than a Mother, Merck Foundation also provided Health Media Training in Nairobi, to 3 Ethiopian journalists to benefit in understanding the infertility issue in African communities and to learn the best media practices to cover such issues and raise awareness by following international standards of reporting and media ethics.

  • What new initiatives should we expect from Merck Foundation this year?

This year, we are going to focus on Merck More Than a Mother’s twin campaign – Merck More Than a Father. We need to reach out to the society to stop putting pressure on men to become fathers. As, this pressure and stress leads to violence towards their women. The theme of all our initiatives in 2020 will emphasis on Merck More Than a Father. Also, this year, we intend to partner with more African countries to be more inclusive in our approach.

Another important initiative that we have just launched is “The Merck Foundation sustainability Initiative”. We strongly believe that young people have numerous untapped capabilities. We wish to unleash such capabilities which would empower and enable them to lead the sustainable development and Green Environmental Agenda of their countries and to encourage others to lead a cool sustainable lifestyle in order to adapt to the impact of climate change. The aim of this Initiative is to educate, engage and empower youth and young entrepreneurs through access to information and change of mindset in order to enrich their understanding of sustainability as well as support their new innovative and creative ideas in the sustainability space.

  • What is your message young women you aspire to make a change is society just as you are doing?

My message to all young women out there is: Believe in yourself, work hard and never allow anyone to let you down. Put your heart, mind and soul in everything you do, this is the success recipe. And when you make it, do not forget to support other women, remember it will be your turn.