Dr Rasha Kelej: An Infertility Advocate


Dr Rasha Kelej, the CEO of Merck Foundation. PHOTO | COURTESY

Dr Rasha Kelej, the CEO of Merck Foundation started a campaign that breaks the stigma around infertility. She is also improving access to drugs for infertile women. She spoke to BDLife on why fertility awareness should be on the International Women’s Day agenda.

Why are you so passionate about fighting for women stigmatised over infertility?

It is very close to my heart as an African woman, a pharmacist and CEO of Merck Foundation to support the childless since in many cultures, infertile women are mistreated, discriminated and physically abused. We have to create a culture shift.

Millions of African women don’t have access to infertility treatments, what do you think should be done?

Africa needs to train fertility specialists, establish public fertility clinics and IVF {in vitro fertilisation} centers to support infertile couples. We also need laws that improve access to quality fertility care.

As part of Merck More Than a Mother campaign, we are working closely with first woman and ministries of health to ensure these is done. Moreover, we are raising awareness about infertility prevention and management.

Most women bear the burden of infertility to protect the male ego, how can we empower these women and men?

We have to break the stigma of infertility. We have to make it normal that men and women can openly discuss infertility.

Why is important to bring the men’s voice in the infertility debate?

It is very important because it shows support to women. Without them, nothing will be resolved since men cause 50 percent of infertility. Men should get tested with their wives to identify the real cause and treat it accordingly. 

I also call on women who are the culture keepers, mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law to support wives and respect them whether they are mothers or not and stop trying to influence the husband to divorce his wife or abuse her. 

What have you have done that you are proud of?

I am very proud of creating a campaign that has started to have a significant impact in educating people about this sensitive topic. I am very proud that through Merck Foundation we have been able to create hope to some women. They now have access to information.

They can be stronger and with real value to society, whether they are mothers or not. I am proud that we are training fertility specialists in Gambia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Chad and Niger and Central African Republic. Moreover, we also training oncologists in these countries and more.