CEO of Merck Foundation Named Among Most Influential African Women In The world


Wins “African Woman Of The Year 2020”, For The Third Time

By Josephine Akaerr, Special Correspondent

CEO of Merck Foundation and Member of Egyptian Senate (2020-2025) Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej has been named one of the most influential African women in the world for 2020, for the third time. She has been nominated this year as the “African Woman of the Year 2020” by the New African Woman Magazine UK, and most influential African woman 2020, by Avance Media, for her efforts to advocate for women empowerment and healthcare capacity building especially during these challenging times of Coronavirus pandemic.

Senator Dr. Kelej has been previously recognized as One of 100 Most Influential Africans – 2019 by New African Magazine in UK for creating historic campaign “Merck More than a Mother” to break stigma around infertile and childless women in Africa and beyond.

Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej is prolific women and health rights campaigner

Dr Rasha Kelej, the CEO of the Merck Foundation, is the brain behind the inspiring ‘More Than A Mother’ campaign – rallying call against female infertility stigma – for which she was recognized as one of the Most Influential Africans of 2019. The campaign, one of the most successful causes that have been taken forward by Merck Foundation, empowers childless and infertile women through access to information, health, change of mindset, and economic empowerment. More than 18 First Ladies rallied behind the campaign as ambassadors of Merck more than a Mother campaign, which is very impressive.

Some of Its and innovative initiatives include: Health Media Training, Media Recognition Awards, Fashion Awards, and Film Awards. Dr Kelej has also worked closely with local artists to develop local songs to break the stigma of infertility in their communities. More than 18 songs have been developed so far.

But that’s not all! Dr Kelej has in her capacity as CEO of Merck Foundation, also developed many other impactful programs such as the Merck Foundation First Ladies Initiative (MFFLI), Merck Capacity Advancement Program, Merck Cancer Access Program, Merck Foundation Diabetes Blue Points Program, and Merck STEM for women and youth. These programs are focused on building healthcare capacity and improving access to health and empowering women and girls through education in Africa and other developing countries.

In a challenging year that was 2020, Dr Kelej remained steadfast in her work, and led the Merck Foundation COVID -19 response in Africa in partnership with 18 African First Ladies and Miniseries of health, education and media and communication of more than 45 countries, with focus on four major areas: community support; online education for health-care providers in six different fields (diabetes, cardiovascular, sexual and reproductive health, endocrinology, respiratory and acute medicines); community awareness through “Stay at Home“ Media Recognition Awards; and community awareness through a children’s storybook The Right Choice.

Transforming Public healthcare sector and Training Doctors

In the midst of the pandemic, Senator Dr Rasha Kelej has also spearheaded an online training of more than 600 doctors from 25 African countries and 10 developing countries in Asia and Latin America – an important impact in a challenging time.

It has been more important than ever to build capacity and training of specialized doctors. In some of these countries, they have never had not even one oncologist, for example. They may have the general practitioner, but they don’t have specialized doctors, they simply made history in these countries such as The Gambia, Burundi, Guinea & Liberia.

During this difficult period, we have therefore provided a one year online Diploma and two year master degree in Respiratory Medicine, Acute Medicine, Endocrinology, Diabetes & Cardiovascular health and Sexual & Reproductive health,” she explains.

“Our strategy and our program have been crystal clear – to invest in professional healthcare capacity building through providing scholarship for health care providers. And helping train skilled doctors in the midst of this pandemic, has made a big difference,” she adds.

In the meantime, Dr. Kelej also produced and directed an inspiring pan- African song called My White Army’ as her personal contribution to thank the doctors and nurses fighting on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle. The song, featuring singers from 11 African countries in three languages Arabic, English, and French has been received to high acclaim across the continent.

Senate appointment:

In December 2020, Dr Rasha was among 100 Egyptian experts appointed to the Senate House by President of Egypt, H.E. Mr. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. She will be one of the advisers on economic, social and health development and partnership between Egypt and the rest of Africa.

How does she do it all?

“I think one of the most important factors that keeps the Merck Foundation strong and continuing with our programs even during this pandemic is that we establish very strong partnerships, and trust levels with our partners. And this has been the case long before COVID-19,” she says adding: “On a personal level, I can say that I transform under pressure, no matter the challenge. That is just my personality. I don’t break, I transform and I have this work/life fusion, in which my life and work are totally fused. With any challenge I face, I just keep the same energy levels. I transform to a different shape and mode. And for me, new challenges give me an opportunity to be innovative and be different. COVID-19 was unexpected and unpredicted, but it helped us to transform to a stronger mode and prepare ourselves to be innovative out of our comfort zone.”

As we enter into an uncertain 2021, Dr Kelej remains characteristically optimistic and hopeful, as she looks forward to breaking new ground. “I’m very optimistic. And with my new position in the Egyptian Senate and what great job our President El- Sisi is doing for Egypt and Africa , I am hopeful that, while I continue with my work, I can utilize and capitalize on this opportunity of doing my job successfully as CEO of Merck Foundation and as a Senator and continued making an impact. There are lots of opportunities for bringing the Egyptian and rest of African youth together for achieving the sustainable development goals of our beautiful African continent, and I want to explore these opportunities with them, this coming year.”

“I am honored to be nominated the African Woman of the year 2020 by New African Woman Magazine, UK to acknowledge my efforts and dedication to advocate for women empowerment and healthcare capacity building specially during these challenging times of Coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to those who believed in me. I am also very honored to be appointed by The President of Egypt, H.E. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, as a member of Egyptian Senate ( 2020-2025) to help strengthening collaboration and partnership between Egypt and rest of Africa with the aim to continue our contribution to the social , economic and health development of our beautiful continent. Moreover, I will continue my mission to empower other women and improve access to equitable and quality healthcare in Africa and developing countries. It is my personal commitment”, said Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej CEO of Merck Foundation, Member of Egyptian Senate ( 2020-2025), Most Influential African (2019& 2020) and African Woman of The Year 2020.

The New African Woman (NAW) has listed 30 strong African women as Women of the Year 2020, chosen from various career backgrounds. The list includes many famous names like; Amina J. Mohamed: Deputy Secretary-General At United Nations; Fadji Maina: Earth scientist at NASA; Bozoma Saint John: Global Chief Marketing Officer of Netflix; Michaela Coel: Producer, Actor, Director; Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, amongst others.

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