Interview with Rasha Kelej , CEO of Merck Foundation, Why we created a song to break the stigma of infertility

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Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO Merck Foundation Interview for song 'Life is Bigger' with singer Tom Close.

How did the idea come about to write/record a song as part of the Merck More Than a Mother community awareness effort?

At Merck Foundation, we strongly believe that  art can make a difference; it can help bring about a positive change as it has the capacity to make the problem felt, which further stimulates emotions and leads to engagement and action. Hence we used this medium to address the issue of infertility with a special focus on male infertility and breaking the stigma around infertile women. . We are certain that this song will add significant value to influence the culture change we are advocating in the African countries and rest of the world which is women are more than just mothers but they productive members in society who deserve to be respected whether they have children or not.  


Merck Foundation presents  "Life Is Bigger" official video
 

Was it the singer or did the plan come from Merck?
Merck Foundation came up with this idea and then collaborated with the singer and songwriter Tom Close, who is also a doctor from Rwanda. I worked closely with him to come up with the lyrics of this song which includes all important messaged that we wish to deliver to the society.  But we also cooperated and will cooperate with many other singers such as the song “ worriers “ bu Suzanne , a famous singer from Kenya and a theme so g called “ More than a Mother” by a young singer from Sierra Leone her name is Rozzi and it was featured by a tap singer from Kenya , Octipizo. 
We are planning to develop a song from each country and in french too. Fir example we have now a new song in the production from The Gambia. I strongly believe involving art and specially music and songs is the correct strategy to create a culture shift and change mindset specially with regards to youth. 

 


Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO Merck Foundation & President Merck More Than A Mother Visits Jackline.

What is the theme of the song and why is it important?
The song communicates an important message to the society that not only women but men too can be the cause of infertility. It also speaks about the stigma attached to infertility, articulates that life is bigger than having children and delivers Merck Foundation’s key message that a woman is more than a mother and men are more than just fathers. And says #NOForInfertilityStigma
 
Is there a call to action in the song?
The song encourages men to speak up about their infertility and join the treatment journey with their wives. So far, women are the ones blamed for infertility. And in many culture they suffer all forms of violence ,We wish the scenario to change and want the men to understand that it takes both, a man and a woman to bring a child to this world. Moreover we want to sensitize the communities to respect women wether they can be mothers or not. 

 

 
How will the song be used in the campaign? Do you have a distribution plan and/or media plan to get it out to people?
We are promoting the song on our social media which has huge followers platform from all over Africa . Also, the same has been circulated with all the important media houses and individual journalists of Africa , who are further helping us in reaching to the masses. We have planes this during Merck Foundation Health  media training we conducted for the first time for media representative from more than 17 countries. Each country came up with an action plan how to make an impact through thier media houses.  
   
How long has that been going on?
We started "Merck More Than a Mother" campaign in 2015 first in Kenya then Uganda and the rest of 35 countries in Africa and Asia. It aims to empower infertile women through access to information, health and changing mind-sets. This powerful initiative supports governments in defining policies to enhance access to regulated, safe and effective fertility care. It also defines interventions to break the stigma around infertile women and raises awareness about infertility prevention and management. In partnership with First Ladies offices , academia, ministries of health and international fertility societies, the initiative also provides medical education and training for healthcare providers and embryologists to build and advance fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries. 
 
Merck Foundation has many First Ladies to be ambassadors of Merck More Than a Mother in their countries such as FL of Niger, Chad, Gambia, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Guinea and more will be appointed in October 2018. This speaks volume about the work we are doing.


 
Also, part of the campaign is our Merck Embryology & Fertility Training Program, a three-month hands-on clinical training course to establish the platform of fertility specialists across Africa and Asia . Merck Foundation provided this training for fertility specialists and embryologists in more than 30 countries across Africa and Asia such as: Chad, Niger, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Nigeria, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leon, Liberia, Cameron, Rwanda, Botswana, DR Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Gambia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia. So far more than 64 candidates have taken the training. 
Merck Foundation is making history in many African countries where they never had fertility specialists or specialized fertility clinics before ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ intervention, to train the first fertility specialists such as; in Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Gambia, Niger, Chad, and Guinea.  

Merck Foundation has also supported the establishment of the first ever Public IVF centers in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda. 
 

What is the overall message to people and why is it important to get that outto people in Africa and the rest of the world? 
According to WHO data 2016, one in every four couples in Africa and developing countries are infertile which means about 180M couples are infertile. Incidence is much higher than in Europe and developed countries which around maximum 8% to 9%. Hence, it was important for us to focus on this region. According to many research ; around 85% of these cases are due to untreated infectious diseases which result from FGM , child Marriage , unsafe abortion , unsafe delivery or STDs. Hence prevention is very critical to reduce infertility incidence in Africa. 
In many culture women are the ones to be blamed for infertility while infertility affects men and women equally. Hence raising awareness about male  infertility and breaking this stigma is critical. 
 
With “Merck More than a mother”, we have initiated a cultural shift to de-stigmatize infertility on all levels: By improving awareness, training the skills of local experts who are currently very limited , building advocacy in cooperation with decision makers and by supporting childless women in starting their own small business. It’s all about giving every woman the respect and the help she deserves to live a fulfilling life, with or without a child. And about improving their access to quality and equitable fertility care when needed. 
 
Any other comments or thoughts about the overall effort and the new song?
Through this song and our other efforts, we are trying to encourage men to speak up and discuss their infertility problem openly. And support their wives during the treatment journey.  Men in Africa are very kind, once they realize the scientific facts, and that infertility has nothing to do with their sexuality, they support the idea of getting tested and start to deal with the society and family pressure on themselves and their wives. 
 
Dr. Rasha Kelej - B.Sc Pharma, MBA
Chief Executive Officer- CEO 


Watch below video


Rasha Kelej-CEO of Merck Foundation & President of Merck More Than a Mother Empowering Ugandan Women
 

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The Merck Foundation, established in 2017, is the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany, aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people and advance their lives through science and technology. Our efforts are primarily focused on improving access to quality & equitable healthcare solutions in underserved communities, building healthcare and scientific research capacity and empowering people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with a special focus on women and youth. All Merck Foundation press releases are distributed by e-mail at the same time they become available on the Merck Foundation Website.  Please visit www.merck-foundation.com to read more. To know more, reach out to our social media: Merck Foundation; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Flicker.

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