Merck Foundation, African First Ladies partner to break stigma of infertility as they celebrate International Women’s Day

L-R. H.E. Rebecca Naa Okaikor, the First Lady of Ghana, H.E. Brigitte Touadera, the First Lady of Central Africa Republic; H.E. Neo Jane Masisi, the First Lady of Botswana; H.E. Aassata Issoufou, the First Lady of Niger; H.E. Hinda Deby, the First Lady of Chad; Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation; H.E. Macky Sall, the President of Senegal; H.E. Marieme Faye Sall, the First Lady of Senegal; H.E. Fatima Maada Bio, the First Lady of Sierra Leone; H.E. Esther  Lungu, the First Lady of Zambia; H.E. Denise Nkurunziza, the First Lady of the Republic of Burundi. (AGENCY PHOTO)

NAIROBI, Kenya – Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany marks the International Women’s Day themed #BalanceforBetter through partnering with 11 African First Ladies to work together on defining interventions to break the stigma around infertile women in Africa.

Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation emphasized, “I am very proud that 11African First Ladies have partnered with Merck Foundation and have become the Ambassadors of our unique and historic campaign “Merck more than a Mother” to empower infertile women and eliminate the stigma around infertility in their countries and across Africa”.

Merck more than a Mother Ambassadors are:

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

H.E. DENISE NKURUNZIZA, The First Lady of the Republic of Burundi;

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

H.E. HINDA DEBY ITNO, The First Lady of Chad;


H.E. KEÏTA AMINATA MAÏGA, First Lady of Mali;


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

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

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

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

In many cultures in Africa, infertility is a huge stigma and women are solely blamed for it. The women suffer discrimination, violence and are mistreatment due to their inability to bear children, although 50% of infertility cases are due to male infertility. Therefore, there is a huge need to create a culture shift to respect women whether they are mothers or not, encourage men to speak up about their infertility and support their wives during the treatment journey.

Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation and President, Merck More Than a Mother with The First Lady of Zambia, H.E. Esther Lungu during their visit to a village in Central Province, Zambia to meet and empower infertile women. (AGENCY PHOTO)

“We want to take this opportunity while we are marking International Women’s Day to remind all women that they are more than just mothers, and they are valuable members in society whether they can bring children or not. It is very sad to learn that women are still being abused and subject to violence, for their inability to bear children. This is unacceptable and must be changed, and we will work hard with all our partners to create this culture shift and emphasize to everyone that women are more than just Mothers. At Merck Foundation we do not only mark women’s day today , but we celebrate women every day, empowering women and youth is in the spirit of what we do, it is a part of Merck foundation’s DNA”, added Dr. Rasha Kelej.

Merck More than a Mother has been empowering infertile women in African countries by improving access to information, health, change of mind-set and economic empowerment.

Through the partnership with the African First Ladies, Merck Foundation to partner with more sectors such as media, art with all its forms to address the issue of the stigma around infertile women and to sensitize the communities about infertility topic in term of infertility prevention and male infertility.

They will launch together Merck more than a Mother local songs, Media Recognition Award, Film Award, Fashion Award and Art Award to encourage young talents to apply those skills to sensitize communities about this sensitive issue with the aim to empower infertile women in their countries.

About ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ campaign:

“Merck More Than a Mother” initiative aims to empower infertile women through access to information, education and health and by changing mind-sets. This powerful initiative supports governments in defining policies to enhance access to regulated, safe and effective fertility care. It defines interventions to break the stigma around infertile women and raises awareness about infertility prevention and management. In partnership with academia, ministries of health and international fertility societies, the initiative also provides medical education and training for healthcare providers and embryologists to build and advance fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries.

With “Merck More than a mother” have initiated a cultural shift to de-stigmatize infertility on all levels: By improving awareness, training the skills of local experts, building advocacy in cooperation with decision makers and by supporting childless women in starting their own small business. It’s all about giving every woman the respect and the help she deserves to live a fulfilling life, with or without a child.

Also, part of the campaign is our Merck Embryology & Fertility Training Program, a three-month hands-on practical course in partnership with IRSI, Indonesia, IIRRH, India and Manipal Academy of Higher Education (Manipal University), India to establish the platform of fertility specialists across Africa and developing countries. Merck Foundation provided for more than 84 candidates, in clinical and practical training for fertility specialists and embryologists in more than 29 countries across Africa and Asia such as: Chad, Niger, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire , Ghana, Ethiopia , Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania , Zambia , Nigeria, Benin, Mali, Burkina Fuso, Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cameron, Rwanda, Botswana,  DR Congo , Congo Brazzaville, Gambia , Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Merck Foundation is making history in many African countries where they never had fertility specialists or specialized fertility clinics before ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ intervention, to train the first fertility specialists such as; in Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Gambia, Niger, Chad, Guinea, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Merck Foundation launched new innovative initiatives to sensitize local communities about infertility prevention, male infertility with the aim to break the stigma of infertility and empowering infertile women as part of Merck more than a Mother such as;

  • Merck More than a Mother media recognition award and health media training
  • Merck More than a Mother fashion award
  • Merck More than a Mother film award
  • Local songs with local artists to address the cultural perception of infertility and how to change it

The First Ladies become the Ambassadors of Merck More Than A Mother campaign to eliminate stigma around infertility in their countries

About Merck Foundation:

The Merck Foundation, established in 2017, is the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany, aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people and advance their lives through science and technology. Their efforts are primarily focused on improving access to innovative 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 youth. All Merck Foundation press releases are distributed by e-mail at the same time they become available on the Merck Foundation Website.

About Merck:

Merck is one of the leading science and technology companies in healthcare, life science and performance materials. Almost 53,000 employees work to further develop technologies that improve and enhance life – from biopharmaceutical therapies to treat cancer or multiple sclerosis, cutting-edge systems for scientific research and production, to liquid crystals for smartphones and LCD televisions. In 2017, Merck generated sales of € 15.3 billion in 66 countries.

Founded in 1668, Merck is the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company. The founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed corporate group. Merck holds the global rights to the Merck name and brand. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the company operates as EMD Serono, MilliporeSigma



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