Merck More Than a Mother. From woman to woman


Rasha Kelej, CEO Merck Foundation

Who is Rasha Kelej
She is an African woman, a pharmacist who is passionate about raising awareness on discrimination and stigma that infertile women undergo.

What’s your passion?
Creating a platform for future experts in health care and improving access to health care services and drugs for infertile women.

What’s the campaign Merck More Than a Mother all about?
We work closely with policy makers, governments, health care providers to define interventions to reduce the social suffering of those women and improve access to regulated fertility care.

It also raises awareness about infertility prevention, management, and male infertility by integrating it into health care infrastructures such as HIV, maternal health and mother and child programes.

Suppose you were not on the programme, what else would you be doing?
I would be doing what I love most — providing training to young doctors who want to be oncologists and embryologists. Also building capacity and developing professional skills.

What keeps you going?
To see the transformation we are doing on women lives by taking them out of their suffering.

What impact has the programme had on women in East Africa?
Women are able to get to know where and how to get help when they need it. We also open up businesses for the women who are unable so that they get small money and remain independent. We also educate them and the community that inability to get a child is not a crime.

Currently, we have over 2,000 women in East Africa in the programe.

What do you think about society viewing women as a birth machine?
I don’t think it is appropriate, it is very bad that women who are not blessed with children are treated like rags in the society.

Women should be companions and not birth machines.
If you are blessed to have children well and good and if not the respect should cut across.

Are you married? Do you have children?
Yes, I am married but I chose not to have children because I wanted to focus on achieving what takes much of my time.

Even if you choose not to have children on your own, still, you can be more than a mother and be successful and productive in the society.

What do you live by?
Passion and results oriented.

What do you do at your free time?
I love fashion, at my free time, I would think and make a garment of my choice. One day when I retire I will take care of young and future fashion designers.

Who inspires you?
I am inspired by those who want to make a difference in people’s lives by getting a solution to a problem like scientists.

Any advice you got from your mother?
That I must always learn to help people at the time of their need.

What makes you happy?
Spending time with my husband because most of the time I am away meeting mothers and getting a solution to their problem. So when I find time, I maximise it.

The major problem is access to affordable drugs, what’s your organisation doing about it?
It is not only drugs but health specialists as well, take for example cancer, in Kenya we have only 15 oncologists for 45 million Kenyans.

Lack of professional skills in the health care is a huge problem.
As a foundation, we focus on building capacity and developing the skills to provide valuable health care.

Why do you think it’s only women who face the wrath of the community when it comes to infertility?
Infertile women in Africa have been neglected, mistreated and discriminated against. This is not right and has to change.

It’s very unfortunate that women have to bear the brunt of infertility in the community but scientifically, 50 per cent of infertility cases are due to male factor that’s why we are bringing in the males and the community.

We want them to be able to respect the women and look at them as valuable people in the community and not birth tools.

Challenges you encounter?
Being in all the places and managing the programme and at the same time managing my family. I have to work extra hard to ensure that everything is taken care of.

Special message to women who cannot have children?
They are still mothers and very beautiful. They should stand up for themselves and not let anyone abuse them.

They can still have happy family lives and grow old together with their husbands.

Parting shot...
I am looking for that day that a woman would walk into a public hospital and get the infertility services at a cheaper price.

That day the society would walk with infertile women encouraging them and giving them hope that they are part of the community.