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Merck Foundation CEO, Rasha Kejel on course to fight for ‘infertile’ women

Merck Foundation CEO, Rasha Kejel on course to fight for ‘infertile’ women

Also read: Merck More Than A mother media awards

One woman’s quest to fight infertility stigma amongst women:  Merck Foundation CEO Rasha Kejel


Dr. Rasha Kelej


Dr. Rasha Kelej

Sagiri 3

Dr. Rasha Kelej

In most parts of the world, especially in Africa, inability to give children is among a woman’s worst nightmare.

Most women who end up childless in marriage endure not only humiliation but psychological torture and dishonor.

Harrowing stories of women can leave one in tears. It is unbearable, painful and shameful. But the situation is slowly changing as societies embrace change and get more enlightened on real causes of infertility and role of both men and women in dealing with the challenge.

Speaking to journalists during the launch of “Merck more than a mother” media recognition awards in Nairobi last Friday, the President of Merck Foundation, Rasha Kelej (pictured above), said her company is teaming up with all stakeholders especially the media to challenge the perception of infertile women in Africa.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Infertility

Q. What is the clinical definition of infertility?

A. “Infertility is the inability of a sexually active, non-contracepting couple to achieve pregnancy in one year. The male partner can be evaluated for infertility or subfertility using a variety of clinical interventions, and also from a laboratory evaluation of semen.” (Semen manual, 5th Edition3).

Q. What is infertility in a woman?

A. For a woman, infertility (or a state of subfertility) can manifest itself as either:

  • the inability to become pregnant
  • an inability to maintain a pregnancy
  • an inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth.

Q. Is there treatment for infertility?

A. When men and women attempt to have a child or to expand their family, the causes and the difficulties encountered can be complex. Many simple, as well as more complex medical interventions can be attempted to help a couple or an individual to reach a state of pregnancy or to be able to maintain a pregnancy which results in a live birth. {Source: World Health Organisation (WHO)}

Q. What is primary infertility?

A. When a woman is unable to ever bear a child, either due to the inability to become pregnant or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth she would be classified as having primary infertility. Thus women whose pregnancy spontaneously miscarries, or whose pregnancy results in a still born child, without ever having had a live birth would present with primarily infertility. (Source: WHO).

Q. What is secondary infertility

When a woman is unable to bear a child, either due to the inability to become pregnant or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth following either a previous pregnancy or a previous ability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth, she would be classified as having secondary infertility. Thus those who repeatedly spontaneously miscarry or whose pregnancy results in a stillbirth, or following a previous pregnancy or a previous ability to do so, are then not unable to carry a pregnancy to a live birth would present with secondarily infertile. (Source: WHO).

How women are coping with infertility

After rejection and inhumane treatment they are subjected to, most women with empty or waiting wombs often find solace in company of ‘same feathers’ or ‘same mind’.

Empty womb

Empty womb

A quick check on facebook for instance shows the immense support the women give each other by sharing their tearful experiences. One such group is the the ‘Waiting Wombs’ and the members support each other through paryers and inspirational literature like this  poem from a blogger called Brandy

Here’s what I don’t know…..
I don’t know if you’re trying for your 1st child or your 4th. 
I don’t know if you’ve been trying 6 months or 6 years.
I don’t know if you’re holding to hope or have completely given up.
I don’t know if you have a support group or you’re going at it alone.
I don’t know if you talk about it or it’s your best kept secret.
I don’t know if you love Christ or want nothing to do with Him. 
I don’t know if you you will ever hold a(nother) child in your womb.
I know that Christ wants you to run to Him.
I know that He cares about each tear that falls.
I know that it’s okay to break and cry and question.
I know that you are not forgotten and are not overlooked.
I know that you need Him more than you need a baby.
I know that He is hope.
I know that He is enough.
So in the waiting and the hurting know you’re not alone and you’re not abandoned. 
Know that you are prayed for and deeply loved. 
Know that though your heart is broken and your womb is empty, He loves you.
It’s something we all need to know.
the girl with a broken heart and an empty womb.


Below is a storified collection of what people say about empty wombs and other inspiring stories worth sharing


See below some heart wrenching stories compiled by Merck in its Merck More Than a Mother campaign:

(Used with permission of Merck Foundation)


She said she has already teamed up with the first ladies of Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Central Africa Republic. They are also working in Uganda with the Ministry of Health and they have plans on working with the First Lady of Kenya.

“The campaign is mainly aimed at creating awareness, help governments define policies to improve access to safe and effective fertility care and reduce stigmatization of infertile women,” she said.

“According to the World Health Organization, 1 out of 4 couples in Africa suffer from infertility. 50% these cases are associated with men as much as women. 85% are due to untreated infections in women. This is the reason why Merck saw it fit to create awareness and emphasize on the importance of prevention programs in Africa,” she said.

Also read: Merck More Than A mother media awards

According to Rasha, the main causes of infertility include untreated sexually transmitted infections, unsafe abortions and female genital mutilation. Other causes include poor nutrition, exposure to smoking and leaded petrol and other environmental pollutants.

“Infertility affects men and women equally and therefore prevention is a collective responsibility,” said Rasha.

It is highly advised that couples go for checkups together. Infertility awareness should also be integrated within HIV prevention, family planning and mother care programs. These programs should teach women about lifestyle factors associated with infertility and also about environmental pollution and contamination.

The foundation is partnering with the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association, the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Fertility Society to reduce stigmatization and the social suffering of infertile women.

Merck is a leading science and technology company in Germany. On June 26th, 2017 it established a foundation to deal with corporate social responsibility. Under their many corporate responsibility activities they came up with an initiative called “MERCK More than a Mother” to help create awareness about infertility in developing countries.


More about Merck More than a Mother Media Recognition Awards

Merck Foundation has launched the “Merck More than a Mother” ‘Media Recognition Awards’ Call for Applications. The awards have been established to showcase and appreciate outstanding health journalism and to recognize individual professional journalists and students who have produced accurate, informative, and compelling stories about infertile women or couples.
The Awards will honor and reward outstanding journalistic coverage that enhances the public engagement and understanding of infertility stigma and the need to change the social perception of it in African communities.
The Award is open to print, video broadcast, photo journalists and media students whose stories appear in newspapers, websites, blogs and television and that target the public.
Submission deadline for stories and photos is31st AUGUST 2017.
Applications can be submitted via
                             Prize Award
Multimedia (TV)
USD 5000
USD 3000
USD 1500
USD 1000
USD 1500
USD 1000
USD 1500
USD 1000

Word from the judges

Story By Stephanie Odhiambo, Student, Daystar University

Edited by James Ratemo, Editor- KenyaCurrent.Com


Also read: Merck More Than A mother media awards

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