The Story of Merck Foundation by Dr. Rasha Kelej

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Dr Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation

We strongly believe that it is crucial to have a real economic transformation with a social dimension that will ensure not only all basic needs but quality of life for everyone. This can never be achieved except with capacity building and the empowerment of women and youth.

The size and complexity of the task is so large that no single organization can manage on its own, so integration of effort is necessary to realize our vision for a world where everyone can lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

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Therefore, we decided to consolidate all our programs that we created since 2012 under one single roof: the Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck as its non-profit organization and separate entity established 2017, Rasha Kelej as the CEO of Merck Foundation reports to a board of trustees chaired by Prof Frank Stangenberg- Haverkamp.

This Foundation allowed us to considerably expand the scope, reach and effectiveness of our programs. It puts us in a better position to address more of the most pressing health, social and economic challenges of the 21st century.

With Merck Foundation, we marked a very important milestone in our long-term commitment towards underserved communities in Africa and the rest of the world.

Watch Video – Merck Foundation Empowers childless women in Africa & Asia.

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We strongly believe that empowering people will lead to a better future, we also believe good healthcare can transform the lives of individuals and families across developing countries. It can significantly contribute to economic and social development. Because healthcare is a major driver of economic growth and, consequently, of social progress. 

Let me share with you the main concept of our work; the lack of financial means is not the only challenge in Africa, but a scarcity of trained health care personnel is the biggest challenge. 

Now, let me share with you few shocking facts, can you imagine that

  • There is no single oncologists or Fertility Specialists in many African countries till todays, in the 21st century, countries such as The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Guinea, Burundi, Niger and Chad. In total, there is very limited number of oncologists who are mostly located in the capitals (for example a country with population of 40 m and more population has from two to 10 oncologists, who are based mainly on the capitals.
  • Only women are blamed for the inability of bringing children, they suffer abuse discrimination and domestic violence as infertility is a huge stigma.
  • The incidence of infertility in Africa is very high. One every four couples are infertile
  • Around 85% of cause of Infertility are due untreated infectious diseases which resulted from FMG, unsafe abortion or delivery, child marriage or STDs. Hence prevention.

To address these challenges, we created our programs since 2012
Merck More Than a Mother
Cancer Access Program
Merck Capacity Advancement Programs
Merck Foundation First Ladies Initiative
Merck STEM Program for Women and Youth

Here is a small brief about some of these programs that had a significant impact and touched people lives every day. As you can see, we established partnership with 19 African First Ladies. And 42 ministers of Health, Gender, Education and information. More than 2 million followers, and 35 countries

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Therefore, Merck Foundation focuses on building capacity and I am proud that we are making history in those countries by providing specialty training for the first oncologists there. And, for the first Fertility Specialists and embryologists.

Through Merck Cancer Access Program, since 2016, we have provided two- and half-year Oncology Fellowship and master degree for African doctors to add more than 70 new oncologist for 25 countries to increase the very limited number of oncologist in Africa.

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Moreover, we have addressed very sensitive topic to empower women in Africa, in many cultures, childless women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. Their inability to have children results in isolation, disinheritance, physical and psychological violence and often divorce whether they are the cause of infertility or not. We have started “More Than a Mother” campaign which is very close to my heart, with the aim of empowering these women through access to information, health, changing of mindsets and economic support.

It is particularly impressive that 19 African First Ladies are now involved as ambassadors for “More than a Mother” through “Merck Foundation First Ladies Initiatives (MFFLI) “. We can rightly be proud of that and of our Partnership with more than 40 ministers in 25 countries.

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 This powerful campaign supports governments in defining policies to enhance access to regulated, safe and effective fertility care. It defines interventions to break the stigma around infertile women and raises awareness about infertility prevention, management and male infertility.

In partnership with First Ladies, Academia, Ministries of health, education, gender and information and international fertility societies, media and art, the campaign also provides clinical fertility and embryology training for more than 140 from 35 countries to build and advance fertility care capacity in Africa, Asia and developing countries. such as: Chad, Niger, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Nigeria, Benin, Mali, Burkina Fuso, Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cameron, Rwanda, Botswana, DR Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Gambia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia.

With “Merck More Than a Mother”, we have initiated a cultural shift to de-stigmatize infertility on all levels by training more than 1000 media representative from 19 African countries and by supporting more than 1000 childless women in starting their own small business. But our movement with all its initiated helped millions of childless women, it’s all about giving every woman the respect and the help she deserves to live a fulfilling life, with or without a child. 

We have also launched new innovative initiatives to sensitize local communities about this sensitive topic such as; starting health media training, media recognition awards, fashion awards and film award, we have also partnered with local artists to create songs in English, French and local language to sensitize communities to respect women whether they are mothers or not. More than 18 songs have been created. We have created children stories to address this topic for each country to develop strong family values of love and respect from young ages

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Other programs are focusing on building diabetes and hypertension care capacity in both Africa and Asia, focusing on women and youth candidates, with the aim to establish a strong platform of diabetes and hypertension experts across the two continents. 210 doctors from 35 countries   enrolled on the online postgraduate Diploma in Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine Diploma or Diabetes Diploma since launch in 2016.

Nationwide Diabetes Blue Point Project aims to help improve access to equitable and quality diabetes care in underserved communities in Africa, through providing a one-year online Postgraduate Diabetes Diploma from, UK, in English and French to doctors from different provinces or districts of respective countries, ensuring geographical coverage of the whole country.

Empowering Women and Youth in Education with special focus on STEM.
Our STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) partners with global and local institutions and organizations to empower women and young people in the areas of science and technology. We see education as an important factor in promoting economic well-being in Africa.

Through Merck Foundation we supported education of talented pupils in Liberia, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya, Central African republic and Niger with social focus on empowering girls in education .

In partnership with UNESCO we have launched training programs for African women researchers and young African Researchers.

Dr Rasha Kelej CEO of Merck FoundationPresident of Merck More Than a Mother

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