Women urged to continue working hard

This International Women’s Day, and for years to come, every woman, regardless of social background should believe in herself and be confident at every step of her life guided by passion, hard work, putting heart, soul and mind in everything, said CEO of Merck Foundation Dr. Rasha Kelej.

Established in 2017, Merck Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA, Germany that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people and advance their lives through science and technology.

The foundation’s primary focus is on improving access to quality and 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 youths.

In an interview with the Daily News, Dr Kelej said she initiated the “More Than a Mother” campaign in 2015; to empower infertile and childless women through access to health, information, education and change of mindset.

It defines interventions to break the stigma around infertile women and raises awareness about infertility prevention, management, and male infertility.

“In partnership with 20 African First Ladies who work closely with us as our Ambassadors and together with the Ministries of Health, Information, Education & Gender, Media & Art, this campaign also provides training for the Fertility specialists and Embryologists in their countries to build and advance Fertility care capacity in Africa, Asia and developing countries. I am proud that we have provided more than 370 scholarships to doctors from 37 countries, with the aim to advance women’s health, Reproductive and Sexual care and Fertility Care Capacity in Africa and developing countries,” she said.

“However, Merck Foundation has provided more than 550 scholarships out of a total 1200 to female doctors in 42 countries, these are scholarships of one-year diploma and two-year master degree in underserved and critical specialties such as; Respiratory Care, Endocrinology, Fertility, Cardiovascular Preventive, Oncology and more with the aim to empower women in STEM. We also support childless women by helping them start their own small businesses. It’s all about giving every woman the respect and the support she deserves to lead a fulfilling life, with or without a child.

“I also started the initiative to train the media. We have, so far, trained over 2000 media representatives from more than 35 countries, to raise community awareness and break the infertility stigma around women and support girls education and address other social issues related to women’s empowerment such as Gender Equality, Girls’ Education, Stopping GBV, Ending Child Marriage and Stopping FGM,” said Dr Kelej.

Over and above, Dr Kelej pointed out that she continues to believe in girl education and also that education is one of the most critical areas of women’s empowerment.

When girls are educated, she said they can raise strong families, communities and countries.

“I realize there’s a need for more support as there are many brilliant girls out there who are struggling financially and socially to meet their educational needs. Therefore, we started “Educating Linda”, a pan African program that helps young girls who are unprivileged but brilliant to continue their education. The spirit of the project is to provide an opportunity to such girls to pursue their dreams and reach their potential through access to education.”

In partnership with African First Ladies, the foundation have been contributing to the future of 100’s of girls by providing support in partnership with the African First Ladies through providing scholarships and grants that can cover school fees, school uniforms and other essentials including notebooks, pens and mathematical instruments.

Moreover, it has provided 3,000 sets of essential school items for girls’ schools to many countries yearly.

“We also support and empower women in the areas of Science and Technology. Under-representation of women still exists in these fields, even though women have made tremendous participation and progress in their careers. Every year, we conduct the “Merck Foundation Africa Research Summit” in partnership with African Governments and African Union Scientific, Technical and Research Commission. Moreover, as I mentioned before, more than 550 out of 1200 scholarships we provided for young doctors through Merck Foundation were for female doctors, which is a huge milestone,” added Dr Kelej.

Together with its partners, the African First Ladies, the foundation  launched many Children’s storybooks meant to address key social issues such as ending child marriage, stopping GBV, supporting girl education, and breaking Infertility stigma.

Beaven Dhliwayo

Staff Writer