MeRck empowers Ugandan infertile women for the second year through "MeRck More than a Mother" in partnership with Uganda Ministry of Health-

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  • Through ‘Empowering Berna’ project, “Merck More than a Mother” empowers infertile women socially and economically.

  • “Merck More than a Mother” aims to improve access to information, education, healthcare and change of mind-set to break the stigma around infertility.


Merck continues their commitment for the second year to empower infertile women in Uganda through improving access to information, health, change of mind-set and economic empowerment.

Through “Empowering Berna”, Merck in partnership with Uganda Ministry of Health, inaugurated small businesses that have been established this year to support infertile women across the country.

Dr. Belen Garijo, CEO, Merck Healthcare encouraging infertile women who have been empowered through “Merck More than a Mother’s” ‘Empowering Berna’ Project in Tororo, Uganda as Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare (second left) and Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister State for Health, Uganda look on.

Speaking at the event, Dr. Belén Garijo, Member of Executive Board and CEO of Merck Healthcare emphasized: “I believe in women empowerment and especially childless women - they are mistreated and discriminated in many cultures for being unable to have children and start a family. Empowering these women through access to information, health, and change of mind set to remove the stigma of infertility is needed. Through “Merck More than a Mother” we are supporting this strong message together with our partners and we will continue our commitment to improve access to regulated and effective fertility care in Africa.”

Courtesy call on Uganda’s First Lady: From left to right: Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State for Health, Uganda; Hon. Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Kenya; Dr. Belen Garijo, CEO, Merck Healthcare; H.E. Madame Brigitte Touadera, First Lady Central African Republic; H.E. Madam Janet Museveni, First Lady, Republic of Uganda; Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare; Hon. Virginie Baiokua, Minister of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, Central African Republic; Hon. Zuliatu Cooper, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone and Lina Ekomo, Central African Republic.

The day’s program also included a courtesy visit to Uganda’s First Lady H.E. Janet Museveni at State House, Kampala by the Merck delegation to brief her on the “Merck More than a Mother” initiative and to explore possible areas of collaboration. The delegation consisted of H.E. Madame Brigitte Touadera, First Lady, Central African Republic; Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State for Health, Uganda; Dr. Belen Garijo, CEO, Merck Healthcare; Hon. Virginie Baiokua, Minister of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, Central African Republic; Hon. Zuliatu Cooper, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone; Hon. Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Kenya; Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare; and Lina Ekomo, Central African Republic.

From left to right: Dr. Anthony Mbonye, Director of Health Services, Ministry of Health, Uganda; Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare; Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State for Health, Uganda; H.E. Madame Brigitte Touadera, First Lady, Central African Republic; Hon. Zuliatu Cooper, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone and Hon. Virginie Baiokua (2nd row center), Minister of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, Central African Republic.

“In Africa including Uganda, infertile women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. More often an inability to have a child or to become pregnant results in the woman being greatly isolated, disinherited or assaulted. This sometimes also results in divorce or physical and psychological violence. I am glad to see an initiative that addresses this challenge in the public domain in Africa as it is something that no one talks about and is treated as secret. “Merck More than a Mother” is therefore very important for Africa since it aims to define interventions to reduce the stigma and social suffering of infertile women across the continent,” said, Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda.

Dignitaries meeting before the “Merck More than a Mother” event in Kampala, Uganda: Left to right – Dr. Belen Garijo, CEO, Merck Healthcare; H.E. Madame Brigitte Touadera, First Lady, Central African Republic; Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State for Health, Uganda; Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare; Hon. Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Kenya; Prof. Joe Leigh Simpson, Past President, International Federation of Fertility Societies; Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, President, Africa Fertility Society; and Dr. James Olobo-Lalobo, Vice President, Africa Fertility Society.

Madame Brigitte Touadera, the First Lady of the Central African Republic (CAR) said: “I am very happy to participate in today’s launch another milestone of “Merck More than a Mother” in Uganda as it follows the one we had for the Central African Republic (CAR) last month and in Kenya yesterday. As the champion for the initiative in CAR and for Francophone Africa, I acknowledge the social suffering infertile women go through and the role that “Merck More than a Mother” is playing to eliminate this suffering and stigmatization by raising awareness about infertility prevention, male infertility and the necessity of a team approach to family building among couples which is very critical for Africa.”

Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare explained: “Empowering these women across Ugandan rural villages was very essential, these women have suffered a great deal of discrimination, violence and isolation. Moreover meeting community members and leaders there to emphasize the importance of changing their perception of infertility and infertile women in specific was very productive. I have witnessed firsthand the instant change of their mind-set and the transformation of those vulnerable childless women to strong, proud and productive community members.”

Brian and Sawuiya Ntongo (2nd right) a couple from Uganda shares their experience with infertility and how they overcome it together through a shared responsibility as Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State for Health, Uganda; Hon. Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Kenya; Dr. Belen Garijo, CEO, Merck Healthcare and Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare look on and admire the baby born after both of them sought fertility care as a couple.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lower levels of development are thought to be associated with higher levels of non-genetic and preventable causes of infertility such as poor nutrition, untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unsafe abortion, consequence of infections caused by the practice of female genital mutilation, exposure to smoking and to leaded petrol and other environmental pollutants. Hence prevention awareness is very important,” Hon. Sarah Opendi added.

H.E. Madame Brigitte Touadera, First Lady Central African Republic and Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State for Health, Uganda address participants in Tororo, Uganda during the inauguration of businesses for infertile women established with support from “Merck More than a Mother’s” ‘Empowering Berna’ Project.

“The businesses established by “Empowering Berna” project are benefitting over 800 women in many districts in Uganda who have come together in groups and have been trained and supported to establish bakery, catering and tent hire businesses and more. They are currently able to earn an income to support themselves from their own new businesses - they are now ‘more than mothers,” Dr. Rasha Kelej added.

Right to left: Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare; H.E. Madame Brigitte Touadera, First Lady, Central African Republic; Dr. Belen Garijo, CEO, Merck Healthcare and Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State for Health, Uganda cut a ribbon to signify the inauguration of the chairs, tables and tent hire business established for one of infertile women’s group in Tororo, Uganda through “Merck More than a Mother’s” ‘Empowering Berna’ Project.

Over 1,000 infertile women in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, CAR, Ethiopia, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire who can no longer be treated have been empowered socially and economically to lead independent and happier lives through “Empowering Berna”.

The event in Uganda was attended by policy makers including ministers and fertility experts and included: Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda; Hon. Zuliatu Cooper, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone; Hon. Virginie Baikoua, Minister of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, CAR; Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Kenya; Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, President of Africa Fertility Society; Prof. Joe Simpson, Past President, International Federation of Fertility Societies; Prof. Paul Le Roux, President of Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy; Dr. Kamini Rao, Chair International Institute for Training & Research in Reproductive Health, India; and Dr. Mohamed Kamal, President of Future Assured Foundation, Nigeria.

Maria Nabaggala, a researcher at Infectious Diseases Institute, Uganda, the 4th place winner, of 2016 UNESCO-Merck Africa Research Summit ‘Best African Women Researcher Award’ is awarded at home by Dr. Belen Garijo, CEO Merck Healthcare; and Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda as Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare looks on. The 2016 UNESCO-Merck Africa Research Summit was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Maria was first awarded.

Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare, engages with religious leaders in Tororo, Uganda on how they can support the fight against the stigmatization and discrimination of infertile women in their communities.

Watch videos below of Ugandan women who are infertile and have been supported to start their own businesses through “Merck More than a Mother’s” Empowering Berna Project.

Merck More than a Mother with Ugandan Women

Merck More than a Mother with Atieno Petwa

Merck More than a Mother with Aketcho Mary

Merck More than a Mother with Alow Manzeliana

Merck More than a Mother with Atieno Jennifer

Merck More than a Mother with Auma Rose

Merck More than a Mother with Apio Jessica

Merck More than a Mother with Rose Nyagol

Watch below the video of a Ugandan couple Byansi and Sawuya and their battle with infertility and how they sought fertility care together and got a baby.

Merck More Than a Mother with Byansi Adrian Ssemugga and Sawuya Ntongo, couple from Uganda

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