We Will Be Part of Africa’s History; This is Our Legacy-Senator Rasha Kelej on the Merck Foundation Africa Nexus.

We have met Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation ( known as Mama Africa and asked her about her vision for Africa.  She emphasized, “We are committed to making history with the transformation of the public healthcare sector in Africa. In sight are training of an army of thousands of well-trained specialized Doctors who will save millions of lives in the continent.”

She emphasizes after the huge success of 8th edition of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary which held for the first time online, “ I am  very proud of our success. Our annual conference for the first time was held online due to coronavirus pandemic, however it was even more successful than actual conferences. Everyone was extremely engaged and committed. And of course, we had livestream with 75,000 attendees from 70 countries and more than 300, 000 viewers on our social media channels. The conference was in partnership with the Government of Zambia, and was inaugurated by the President of the Republic of Zambia, H.E. Dr. EDGAR CHAGWA LUNGU and Prof. Dr. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp Chairman of both of Executive Board of E.Merck KG and Merck Foundation Board of Trustees; and co-chaired by H.E. Mrs. ESTHER LUNGU, The First Lady of the Republic of Zambia and myself. It is a great honour.”

Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej expresses how proud she is that 13 African First Ladies participated as guests of honour. The First Ladies of Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Namibia, who are also the Ambassadors of Merck Foundation More Than a Mother.

Moreover, 26 African Ministers of different sectors also joined us on the second day, during the high-level ministry’s panel with African Union to discuss Merck Foundation strategy to define interventions to break infertility stigma and support girl education; and to build healthcare and research capacity and establish a strong platform of specialized trained medical experts in many critical and underserved fields to be the first in their countries.

She further confirmed how proud  she is with her work as CEO of Merck Foundation as it empowered her to provide for more than 1100 Doctors from 42 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America with one & two-, three-year specialty training in multiple fields such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Human Assisted Reproduction and Embryology & Fertility specialty, to be the first in their countries. Dr. Kelej emphasized “we have now widened our horizons by introducing more scholarships for young doctors in many new underserved specialties across Africa and Asia. The reach and impact of our 8th edition conference has been great. Even Better than previous editions”.

On Day 2 of the conference, MARS- Merck Foundation Africa Research was held where a High-Level Panel Discussion with Ministers of Health, Science and Technology, Education, Information And Gender and MARS Researchers participated with the objective to empower African young researchers & women researchers, advancing their research capacity and empower them in STEM.

The High-level Ministerial panel included:

1) Hon. Dr. Jonas Kamima CHANDAMinister of Health, Zambia

2) Hon. Dr. Dennis WANCHINGAMinister of General Education, Zambia

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3) Hon. Dr. Brian MUSHIMBAMinister of Higher Education, Zambia

4) Hon. Elizabeth PHIRIMinister of Gender, Zambia

5) Hon. Dora SILIYAMinister of Information & Broadcasting Service, Zambia

6) Hon. Silvia Paula LutucutaMinister of Health, Angola

7) Hon. Dr. NDIKUMANA ThadéeMinister of Public Health & Fighting against AIDS, Burundi

8) Hon. Dr. François HAVYARIMANAMinistre de L’Education Nationale et de la Recherche Scientifique, Burundi

9) Hon. Imelde SABUSHIMIKEMinistre de la Solidarité Nationale, des Affaires Sociales, des Droits de la Personne Humaine et du Genre, Burundi

10) Hon. Marie Chantal NIJIMBEREMinistre de la Communication, des Technologies de L’Information et des Médias, Republic of Burundi

11) Hon. Jacquiline Lydia MikoloMinister of Health & Population, Republic of the Congo

12) Hon. Dr. Ahmadou Lamin SamatehMinister of Health, The Gambia

13) Hon. Ebrima SILLAHMinister of Information, The Gambia

14) Hon. Colonel Remy LamaMinister of Health, Guinea Conakry

15) Hon. Pr. Amadou Bano BarryMinister of Education, Guinea Conakry

16) Hon. Amara SompareMinister of Information & Communication, Guinea Conkary

17) Hon. Khumbize Kandodo ChipondaMinister of Health & Population, Malawi

18) Hon. Dr. Patricia KaliatiMinister of Gender, Community Development & Social Welfare, Republic of Malawi

19) Hon. Agnes NyalonjeMinister of Education, Malawi

20) Hon. Ulemu MsungamaMinister of Youth & Sports, Malawi

21) Hon. Timoth Pagonachi MtamboMinister of Civic Education & National Unity, Malawi

22) Hon. Dr. Kalumbi ShangulaMinister of Health & Social Services, Namibia

23) Hon. Dr. Joyce Moriku KaducuState Minister for Health, Uganda

24) Hon. Monica MutsvangwaMinister of Information & Broadcasting Publicity, Zimbabwe

25) Hon. Sthembiso NyoniMinster of Women Affairs Small & Medium Enterprises, Zimbabwe

26) Hon. Amon MurwiraMinister of Higher & Tertiary Education, Zimbabwe

“On the third day, Merck Foundation Health Media Training was organized for the African and, Latin American Media fraternity to emphasize the important role that media plays to break the stigma around infertility, in raising awareness about infertility prevention, and empowering girls and women through education. Parallel to this, we had Infertility and reproductive care scientific session and respiratory and acute medicines for Covid-19 response session” Senator, Dr. Kelej said.

 We asked her about the state of the partnership she has established with African First Ladies over the years. Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej answered,  “I am proud of our partnership with 20 African First Ladies, who are now the Ambassadors of “Merck Foundation More than a Mother” Campaign. It is an extremely successful partnership; we have achieved a lot together at all levels. Through this partnership, we continue to build healthcare capacity in their countries and empower infertile women and break the stigma around infertility and support girls’ education. Together, we have introduced many initiatives in their respective countries. This certainly speaks volumes about the work we are doing.”

She added “With the unprecedented times of COVID-19, I cannot travel and meet the First Ladies of other countries we wish to partner with. I hope the world is free of Coronavirus and the lockdown is lifted soon. However, I have been able to meet the new First Ladies to invite them to be new members of Merck Foundation First Ladies Initiate – MFFLI. And they have gracefully accepted to be our Ambassadors such as New First Lady of Burundi, Malawi, and DR Congo. I have also established a new important partnership with Burkina Faso First Lady in 2020.”

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Here is the list of our partner African First Ladies, who are also the Ambassadors of Merck Foundation More Than a Mother:

H.E. NEO JANE MASISI, The First Lady of Botswana

H.E. SIKA KABORE, The First Lady of Burkina Faso

H.E. ANGELINE NDAYISHIMIYE, The First Lady of Burundi

H.E. BRIGITTE TOUADERA, The First Lady of Central African Republic

H.E. ANTOINETTE SASSOU-NGUESSO, The First Lady of Congo Brazzaville

H.E. DENISE NYAKERU TSHISEKEDI, The First Lady of Democratic Republic of Congo

H.E. FATOUMATTA BAH-BARROW, The First Lady of The Gambia

H.E. REBECCA AKUFO-ADDO, The First Lady of Ghana

H.E. CONDÉ DJENE, The First Lady of Guinea Conakry

H.E. CLAR WEAH, The First Lady of Liberia

H.E. MONICA CHAKWERA, The First Lady of Malawi

H.E. MONICA GEINGOS, The First Lady of Namibia

H.E. ISAURA FERRÃO NYUSI, The First Lady of Mozambique

H.E. AISHA BUHARI, The First Lady of Nigeria

H.E FATIMA MAADA BIO, The First Lady of Sierra Leone

H.E. ESTHER LUNGU, The First Lady of Zambia

H.E. AUXILLIA MNANGAGWA, The First Lady of Zimbabwe

The Former First Lady of Burundi, H.E DENISE NKURUNZIZA, The Former First Lady of Chad, H.E. HINDA DÉBY ITNO, The Former First Lady of Malawi, H.E. PROFESSOR GERTRUDE MUTHARIKA and The Former First Lady of Niger, H.E AÏSSATA ISSOUFOU MAHAMADOU have worked successfully with Merck Foundation as Merck Foundation More Than a Mother Ambassadors to break the stigma of infertility and empower infertile women in their countries.

About the reasons of her long-term success and her strong relationship with African First Ladies, Senator, Dr.  Rasha Kelej responded, “Honest, sincere long-term commitment to the social health and economic development of their country and their people, programs with concrete measurable impact and not only talk. Creativity, smart focused strategy and objectives and also flawless implementation. Always exceed expectations, all the time we exceed their expectation actually we exceed our own expectation. Therefore, I consider Merck foundation to be the most successful Foundation because we achieve even more than our set goals and exceeds our and our partners expectation and this is how you evaluate success. I consider myself the happiest person in the world because I achieved more than my goals to be part of transforming some people’s lives, but now I am part of transforming millions of people every month. Not only this but together with our partners we transformed the healthcare sector across Africa, revolutionary transformation in few years and still more to come, it is history in the making, as long as I am alive I will do more and more for Africa. We will create an army of specialized and trained doctors we will save lives together. I want to be one day part of Africa history this will make me proud as an African woman.

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I look forward to expanding our footprints and work with more African First Ladies who will help us to realize our vision.”

 About the challenges from COVID 19 and what the Merck Foundation did to help its partner countries in Africa to fight the pandemic, she answered “We raced to respond to COVID 19 and came up with many initiatives. One of the most important initiatives which I personally believe in its importance even before Covid 19 times is to continue healthcare capacity building, which has been our strategy since 2012, in partnership with African First Ladies and Ministries of Health, much before the pandemic struck worldwide. Due to travel restrictions, we adopted the online medical speciality education strategy, through providing scholarships for speciality training to doctors in many medical specialties such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Reproductive and sextual medicines. Moreover, we recently started to provide scholarships in many new underserved specialties including: Emergency and Resuscitation Medicine, Gastroenterology, Laparoscopic Surgical Skills, Mental Health: Psychological Therapies, Orthopaedic Trauma Science, Paediatric, Emergency Medicine, Advanced Surgical Practice, Dermatology, Neonatal Medicine, Pain Management, Psychiatry, Clinical Microbiology and infectious diseases, Ophthalmology, Internal Medicine, Neuroimaging for research, Urology, Trauma, and orthopaedics. We are very proud to invite applications from African and Asian English-speaking doctors from under-served communities for these scholarships on our mail: [email protected]

We also understand the importance of creating community awareness about Coronavirus, so we launched “Mask up with Care” and “Stay at Home” Recognition Awards for Media across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And also, “Make you Own Mask” Fashion Awards for the Fashion fraternity across Africa: I strongly believe in the critical role that Media and Art play to be the voice of the voiceless and raise awareness about sensitive topics such as breaking Infertility stigma and Covid 19 health precautions.

Also, the lockdown and restricted movement to fight coronavirus had hit most casual and daily workers very hard. Therefore, we supported the African government’s strategy to save the living and livelihood of 1000’s of families of casual workers and women who were affected the most by the lockdown or restricted movement. We invite applications from media personal and fashion designers to these two awards on email [email protected]

Moreover, we launched an inspiring storybook ‘Make the Right Choice’ in partnership with African First Ladies to sensitize children and youth about Coronavirus. The story aimed to raise awareness about Coronavirus prevention amongst children and youth as it provided facts about the pandemic and how to stay safe and healthy during the outbreak. It also promoted honesty, hard work, and the ability to make the right choices even during the most challenging times. We released the story in three languages: English, French and Portuguese”.

Link to the Make The Right Choice Storybook:

Complied by Hoda Shebl 

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Merck Foundation.For more images:

Merck Foundation

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