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Voice for childless women

Dr Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation is passionate about ending discrimination against barren women

Who is Dr Rasha Kelej

I am an African woman and a pharmacist. My passion is to empower women and youth, create a platform of future experts in healthcare and improve access to innovative healthcare solutions. I work for Merck Foundation, which is owned by Merck, a pharmaceutical company.

Before your appointment as Merck foundation CEO you started the ‘Merck More Than A Mother campaign, tell us about that.

The initiative was launched in 2015 and first implemented in Kenya the same year and has so far spread to other African countries such as Uganda.

The aim was to reduce stigma and social suffering of women in Africa, which includes discrimination, physical and psychological abuse. When I created the campaign I expected that women would rally behind the course, but I didn’t expect men would rally behind the course as well. The campaign has had huge success within a short period.

What motivated you to start the campaign?

As I was doing programmes on hypertension and diabetes in Africa some years ago as Merck’s chief social officer, I met few women in the villages who shared really sad stories.

They attributed hypertension and diabetes to mistreatment they got from the community due to infertility. It saddened me to know that women were being valued by just an organ in their bodies and being reduced to baby-making machines.

But women can contribute to the community in many ways whether they have babies or not. That’s why I came up with this idea. Merck who also do some work in fertility management supported the idea.

Interventions you have put in place to reduce suffering among women with infertility?

We realised that for older women the problem was beyond repair. Some have lost their reproductive system due to abortions, reproductive health infections or complicated pregnancies.

We encourage these women to form groups and we equip them with skills to start businesses such as chicken and cattle rearing, and restaurants. This way they are able to support themselves financially. It is also encouraging for them to know that they are productive members of the society.

Tell us more about the foundation that you will be heading

The foundation was established this year. It aims to improve health and well-being of people and advance their lives through science and technology, especially in the area of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Our main focus is to improve access to innovative healthcare solutions in undeserving communities by building capacity and empowering people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

It’s amazing to see that you can touch people’s lives and you see it right in front of your eyes. The ability to help someone and take them out of their suffering is humbling. Some of them suffered gender-based violence and others disinherited. To contribute in preventing such a thing is the ultimate goal for me.

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