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Q n A with Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation

Q.Tell us about yourself, your journey towards becoming the CEO of Merck Foundation?

I was born in Egypt, a simple girl who wanted one day to change the world and be successful; I spent most of my life in the United Arab Emirates, between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I became a pharmacist and then I got my MBA from Scotland.

I was always determined to make an impact in the world. I believed in our Africas potential and African talents and capabilities, but I realized that there are many challenges in the continent with regards to proper access to patient care, education, information and change of mindset, which I wanted to find a way to address effectively in a new and creative way.

I joined the international healthcare industry in 1994 then started establishing Merck Foundation in 2012. After many years, I finally broke the glass ceiling and became the CEO of one of the most important foundations in the world and the most influential in Africa, and led its establishment and creation and implemented its program myself for the first two years before I got my team that helps me execute and follow up now.

Being in this position, I genuinely feel that it is now my turn to support other women to reach their potential. Empowering women is in the spirit of everything I do personally or professionally.

Q. Tell us about your signature More Than a Mother Campaign. How did it start and how did it reach where it is now?

I initiated More Than a Mother campaign in 2015, it aims to empower infertile and childless women through access to health, information, education and change of mindset. It defines interventions to break the stigma around infertile women and raises awareness about infertility prevention, management, and male infertility.

In partnership with 20 African First Ladies who work closely with us as our Ambassadors and together with the Ministries of Health, Information, Education & Gender, Media & Art, this campaign also provides training for the Fertility specialists and Embryologists in their countries to build and advance Fertility care capacity in Africa, Asia and developing countries. I am proud that we have provided more than 370 scholarships to doctors from 37 countries, with the aim to advance womens health, Reproductive and Sexual care and Fertility Care Capacity in Africa and developing countries. However, Merck Foundation has provided more than 550 scholarships out of a total 1200 to female doctors in 42 countries, these are scholarships of one-year diploma and two-year master degree in underserved and critical specialties such as; Respiratory Care, Endocrinology, Fertility, Cardiovascular Preventive, Oncology and more with the aim to empower women in STEM.

We also support childless women by helping them start their own small businesses. Its all about giving every woman the respect and the support she deserves to lead a fulfilling life, with or without a child.

I also started the initiative to train media. We have, so far, trained over 2000 media representatives from more than 35 countries, to raise community awareness and break the infertility stigma around women and support girls education and address other social issues related to women’s empowerment such as Gender Equality, Girls’ Education, Stopping GBV, Ending Child Marriage and Stopping FGM.

We have launched new initiatives as part of More Than a Mother COMMUNITY AWARENESS CAMPAIGN and I believe it is creative and out of the box, such as;

  • Media Recognition Awards, Fashion Awards, Film Awards and Song Awards
  • I have Produced and directed songs with local artists to address the cultural perception of infertility and how to change it. More than 25 songs have been created in English, French, and local languages in countries such as Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Burundi, Rwanda, Gambia, Malawi, Liberia, Mozambique, Uganda. We are proud that we have special three songs created, composed, and sung by The President of Liberia, H.E. Mr. GEORGE WEAH and the daughter of President and First Lady of Burundi and even the former First Lady of Burundi. for More Than a Mother campaign to break the stigma around infertility and infertile women in particular.

Q. We have heard about the new TV show you are coming up with, can you talk about it.

I have created our African Community of Art and Fashion with Purpose. We will soon be launching a television program that is going to be the coolest in Africa. It is set to be the voice of the voiceless and break the silence about many social and health issues in Africa and create a culture shift together. I strongly believe that fashion and art should have a purpose beyond entertainment and looking good. They can contribute to sensitizing our communities about different social and health issues such as ending FGM, ending child marriage, stopping GBV, breaking Infertility stigma, supporting Girl Education, Diabetes awareness and healthy lifestyle, and more

Q. We would want to know about your efforts towards supporting girls education in Africa.

I strongly believe in girl education and also that education is one of the most critical areas of women’s empowerment. When girls are educated, they can raise strong families, communities and countries. I realize theres a need for more support as there are many brilliant girls out there who are struggling financially and socially to meet their educational needs. Therefore, we started Educating Linda, a pan African program that helps young girls who are unprivileged but brilliant to continue their education. The spirit of the project is to provide an opportunity to such girls to pursue their dreams and reach their potential through access to education. In partnership with African First Ladies, we have been contributing to the future of 100s of girls by providing support in partnership with the African First Ladies through providing scholarships and grants that can cover school fees, school uniforms and other essentials including notebooks, pens and mathematical instruments. Moreover, we provide 3,000 sets of essential school items for girls’ schools to many countries yearly.

We also support and empower women in the areas of Science and Technology. Under-representation of women still exists in these fields, even though women have made tremendous participation and progress in their careers. Every year, we conduct the Merck Foundation Africa Research Summit in partnership with African Governments and African Union Scientific, Technical and Research Commission. Moreover, as I mentioned before, more than 550 out of 1200 scholarships we provided for young doctors through Merck Foundation were for female doctors, which is a huge milestone.

 

 

 

 

Q. How according to you educating girls can make a difference.

Educating a girl means changing the world not just her world, but the world she lives in.Educationis the key to unlocking access to economic opportunity and other life-giving resources for millions around the world. Educated girls grow into women who are empowered to care for themselves, their families, and their communities. When you invest in a girl, the dividends are immeasurable.

In my opinion, education is also a strong strategy to stop child marriage, GBV, FGM and STDs. I also believe that Girl education is the best vaccine for HIV.

So educating girls can really make a big difference.

Q.You have also launched storybooks, what are they about?

Together with our partners, the African First Ladies, we have launched many Children’s storybooks that we created to address key social issues such as ending child marriage, stopping GBV, supporting girl education, and breaking Infertility stigma. I invite all Africans to read them on our website www.merck-foundation.com

We have distributed thousands of copies of these storybooks in African schools.

Our storybooks address a wide range of social and health issues including breaking infertility stigma, supporting girl education, ending child marriage and Stopping GBV. The storybooks have been localized for each country to have a better connect with the young readers. ?The inspiring storybooks released are:

Educating Linda and Ride into Future to emphasize on the importance of empowering girls through education,

Davids Story emphasizes strong family values of love and respect from a young age which will reflect on eliminating the stigma of infertility and resulted domestic violence in the future,

Jacklines rescue focuses on the importance of Girls Education and highlights the immoral practices of society including child marriage and the dowry system and

Not Who You Are to teach boys to love and respect their future wives and eliminate domestic violence.

Q.What is your message for all African women on this International Womens Day?

I would like to tell every woman to believe in herself and be confident at every step of her life. Passion, hard work, putting heart, soul & mind in everything is the success factor. Also, as I always emphasize, when you make it in life, do not forget to support others around you!

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African countries call on WHO to increase funding

2nd February 2023

Minister of Health Dr Edwin Dikoloti says Africa member states call on World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure equitable resource allocation for 2024-2025. Dr Dikoloti was speaking this week at the WHO Executive Board Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

He said countries agreed that there is need to address the budget and funding imbalances by increasing the programme budget share of countries and regions to 75% for the next year.

“The proposed budget for 2024-2025 marks an important milestone as it is the first in Programme Budget in which country offices will be allocated more than half of the total budget for the biennium. We highly welcome this approach which will enable the organization to deliver on its mandate while fulfilling the expectations for transparency, efficiency and accountability.”

The Botswana Health Minister commended member states on the extension of the General Programme of Work (GPD 13) and the Secretariat work to monitor the progress towards the triple billion targets, and the health-related SDGs.

“We welcome the Director’s general proposed five priorities which have crystalized into the “five Ps” that are aligned with the GPW 13 extension. Impact can only be achieved through close coordination with, and support to national health authorities. As such, the strengthening of country offices is instrumental, with particular focus on strengthening national health systems and on promoting more equitable access to health services.”

According to Dr Dikoloti, the majority of countries with UHC index that is below the global median are in the WHO Africa region. “For that, we call on the WHO to enhance capacity at the regional and national levels in order to accelerate progress. Currently, the regional office needs both technical and financial support in order to effectively address and support country needs.”

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Botswana still weighing in on Maseko’s assassination

27th January 2023

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.

In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.

“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.

“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.

However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”

Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.

“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.

Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.

Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.

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Kopong Murder: Accused interferes with witnesses again!

27th January 2023

State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.

The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.

Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.

“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.

However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.

Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.

“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.

While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.

He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.

According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.

“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.

Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.

“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.

He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.

“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.

He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.

Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.

Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month

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