Senator Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation named among ‘Most Influential African Woman and Everyday Hero 2022’ for the 4th year.

CEO of Merck Foundation, Senator: Egytian Senate
President: “More Than a Mother” campaign
HEALTH EDUCATION & MEDIA: Women Right Champion

Since Dr. Kelej created “More Than a Mother” seven years ago, she has increasingly become a leading voice beyond this campaign against infertility stigma and childless women, devoting her passion for health, education and women rights even further through numerous other pertinent projects. She is also a Senator at the Egyptian Senate.

Ever since Dr. Kelej started her career in the international healthcare and biotechnology industry in 1994. Over the past ten years, her work in the field of social, health and economic development of Africa and other developing countries, has not gone unnoticed. Under her leadership Merck Foundation (the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA), was recognized as the “2022 NGO of the Year” in Africa for its collective efforts and contribution to shaping Africa’s future through key sectors such as health, education and economic empowerment by transforming patient care landscape, supporting girl education, creating a culture shift by empowering women and breaking infertility stigma in Africa and beyond.

To help achieve the Merck Foundation’s goals, Dr. Rasha works closely with partners including more than 20 African First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Education, Information, Communication and Gender. She also partners with Academia and Research Institutions as well as the Media and Arts establishments. These partnerships go a long way in helping to build healthcare capacities which in turn help to address health, social and economic challenges in underserved communities.

“At Merck Foundation, we strongly believe that health and education are important factors in promoting economic well-being in Africa.” – Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej

Health and Patient Access

In the realm of health, Dr Kelej is helping transform the patient care in Africa through various means. As Merck Foundation’s she has to-date, championed and made a reality, more than 1470 scholarships provided by Merck Foundation for doctors from 50 countries in 32 critical and underserved medical specialities. This has led to great improvements in patient access to quality and equitable healthcare solutions across Africa and other parts of the globe where Merck Foundation operates. 

“I am proud that we have provided these scholarships to young doctors…  The Scholarships range from one-year, two-year, and three-year Diploma to a Master Degree in more than 32 critical and underserved specialties, including in the fields of Fertility, Embryology, Oncology, Diabetes, Endocrinology, Respiratory and many more. By doing so, we are helping to create history and Merck Foundation is becoming an important part of Africa’s legacy,” explains Dr. Kelej, on the importance of providing this vital specialist training for doctors.

More Than a Mother – Breaking the Infertility Stigma

Between 2019, 2020 and 2021, Dr Kelej has deservedly been listed on various platforms as one of Africa’s Most Infleuntial Women, for her “More Than a Mother” campaign to empower the often marginalized childless and infertile women, by educating them and their communities through access to relevant information aimed at changing deeply ingrained beleifs and helping change the midset towards the issue.

Since 2015, she has been tirelessly working closely with more than 20 African Fiest Ladies, who are also the Ambassadors of Merck Foundation “More Than a Mother” to destigtamize the issue. She even regulary visits communities in Africa interact directly with those affected by the scourge and offer first hand support. As Ester from Malawi, a beneficiary tells us: “Dr. Kelej walks the talks with us. When she visited my community in Malawi, her message and support left me feeling worthyand I no longer see being childless as being abnormal. I do not have to have children to prove my worthiness as a woman, and it was through her strong message, that I learnt to accept myself. It is very uplifting. I now know I can be or do anything and no one has the right to judge me, just because I happen not to have children. I am ‘More than a Mother’.”

Since 2015, Dr. Kelej has been tirelessly working closely with more than 20 African First Ladies, who are also the Ambassadors of Merck Foundation “More Than a Mother” campaign.

Partnering with African Media and Artists

As the current world order teaches, information dissemination is key to yielding intended results, especially if done factually and appropriately. And Dr. Kelej is a strong believer in the critical role that the Media and the Arts industries play, in giving or being the voice of the voiceless, and raising awareness on important sensitive topics. So, she is doing something about it in this area too by providing Merck Foundation Media Training programmes and Media Awards.

“Currently, we have trained over 2200 media representatives from over 35 countries, who are doing a tremendous work by helping to create a culture shift through raising awareness about social and health issues like breaking infertility stigma, supporting girl education, healthy living and much more,” she says.

Our Africa TV Program

But that’s not all!Dr. Kelej is currently hosting unique pan-African TV program “Our Africa by Merck Foundation” which she has conceptualized, produces and directs. The programme sensitizes communities about pertinent issues supported and championed by Merck Foundation as outlined earlier, this is through “Fashion and Art with Purpose” Community that she has established in 2020. After its successful launches on GH One TV (Ghana), NTV (Uganda), KTN (Kenya), the programme has now extended its broadcast on other prime African TV Channels including LNTV (Liberia), AYV (Sierra Leone) and ZNBC (Zambia). The programme also streams on YouTube and the Foundation’s Social Media channels. The programme hosts fashion designers singers and prominent guests from across Africa to discuss important subjects and address them through their creative work.

“The Art and Fashion can contribute to sensitizing our communities about critical social and health issues. With this though in mind, I came up with ‘Our Africa TV program’, which is both informational and entertaining,” she explains.

Education. Education. Education

Also, at the heart of her passion and zeal, is the importance of education in any society’s quest for development. More so that of its youth, particularly marginalized girls. As such, Merck Foundation has so far supported education of 1000s of girls from 15 African countries through scholarships or school items.

Dr. Kelej explains, “At Merck Foundation, we strongly believe in education as an important factor in promoting economic well-being in Africa and as a strong strategy to stop child marriage, GBV, FGM, and STDs. Girl education is the best vaccine for HIV and is considered the best investment in the global economy. It is estimated by world reports that for every additional year of primary school, a girl’s future income increases by 10-20%.”  

Her passion is therefore, to empower girls and women through various initiatives, including providing training for female and young researchers, medical graduates and supporting the education of best performing girl students across Africa.

“I strongly believe in girl education. When Girls are educated, their countries become more powerful, stronger & prosperous. I realize there’s need for more support as there are many brilliant girls out there who are struggling financially and socially to meet their educational needs. Through our ‘Educating Linda’ program we have been contributing to the future of 1000’s of girls in partnership with the African First Ladies as part of the Merck Foundation “More Than a Mother” campaign, from many African countries such as Burundi, Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Gambia, Guinea Conakry, Liberia Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. My aim is to provide an opportunity to such girls to pursue their dreams and reach their potential through access to education.” added Dr. Kelej.

But Dr. Rasha Kelej also knows the importance of the saying “catch them young” and as such, with the support of partners and African First Ladies, she has so far, released 7 inspirational children’s storybooks in English, French and Portuguese language. The storybooks are distributed to school children across Africa in both and digital formats.

Dr. Kelej has become a Leading Voice Against Infertility Stigma and Childless Women, devoting her Passion for Health, Education and Women Rights.

The power of Song

Dr. Kelej also knows the significance and value of songs in influencing cultural changes and mindsets. She has hence created over 30 songs in English, French and Portuguese, all of which cover the issues at the heart of Merck Foundation and her passion – i.e. breaking infertility stigma, empowering women, and healthy living. Not only has she worked with African First Ladies on this, she has also notable co-opted influential figures such as The President of Liberia George Weah, The Former First Lady of Burundi The daughter of the current President of Burundi to compose and sing songs in support of the “More Than a Mother” campaign. On the health lifestyle front, Dr. Kelej has launched the songs ‘NO more Diabetes, Sugar Free’ in English‘Dites non au Diabète’ in French and ‘Chega de Diabete’ in Portuguese. The songs communicate an important message that diabetes can be prevented and managed with lifestyle modifications like going sugar-free, eating healthy, exercising regularly, stopping smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.

It is inarguable that Dr. Kelej is a crusader on a mission. A mission that is yielding results and her influence in the areas of health, patient care, social inclusion, girl education and the empowerment of women is therefore undeniable.

Written and edited by
reGina Jane Jere with Samba Yonga
8 l New African Woman l Dec 2022


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