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Monday, July 15, 2024

Continental campaign addresses infertile women’s stigma

Merck, in collaboration with Kenya Women Parliamentary Association and University of Nairobi, has kicked off the “More than a Mother” Campaign as part of Merck Fertility Capacity Advancement Programme.

Rasha Kelej, Merck's Vice president and head of Global Business Social Responsibility and Market Development
Rasha Kelej, Merck’s vice president and head of Global Business Social Responsibility and Market Development

“The Merck More Than A Mother Campaign will not only provide medical education and awareness for medical students and general practitioners but will also support governments to define policies to improve access to safe and effective fertility care, address the need for interventions to reduce stigmatization and social suffering of infertile women and raise awareness about male infertility and the necessity for a team approach to family building among couples,” explained Rasha Kelej, Vice president and head of Global Business Social Responsibility and Market Development.

Through this campaign, Merck will address, together with local stakeholders, the key challenges that are associated with resource-constrained settings such as prevention of infertility, education and self-development, ART/IVF regulation, geographic barriers, reproductive rights and over-population and limited resources arguments.

Merck has supported Kenya’s IVF bill during many meetings with Kenya women of parliament, University of Nairobi, medical Students, community and media.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, more than 180 million couples in developing countries (which one in every four couples) suffer from primary or secondary infertility. In sub-Saharan Africa infertility is caused by infections in over 85% of women compared to 33% worldwide which emphasise the importance of infertility prevention programmes in Africa.

Differences between the developed and developing world are emerging because of the different availability in safe, effective and equitable infertility care and different socio-cultural value surrounding parenthood and procreation since the social stigma of childlessness especially for infertile women still leads to isolation and stigmatisation in many African cultures.

During her meeting with University of Nairobi and Kenya Women Parliamentary Association to kick off the campaign, Belen Garijo, Member of the Executive Board of Merck and CEO Merck Healthcare, emphasised: “Providing access to infertility care is important, but it is even more important to intervene to decrease stigmatisation and social suffering arising from this condition. And this what we are aiming to do in partnership with local stakeholders across Kenya and Africa at large.”

Joyce Lay, a Member of Parliament, stated: “We cannot talk in hushed tones anymore, infertility is real and needs all of us to work together to fight stigma, majority of infertility causes is untreated infection, information is very vital to help prevention, early detection and available treatment methods.”

“The cost of IVF needs to be affordable for every couple who needs these services. The government can remove or lower taxes on IVF equipment. Our country doesn’t have single embryologists therefore capacity building is needed to improve access to fertility care, let’s give this a priority,” she added.

Access to adequate comprehensive reproductive health services, including infertility care, is a basic human right regardless of the economic circumstances in which individuals are born into.

Therefore, the Merck Fertility Capacity Advancement Programme will contribute to identifying and implementing strategies to improve access to effective, safe and regulated fertility care in Africa and to defining interventions to decrease social suffering from infertility and childlessness.

The consequences of infertility are much more dramatic in developing countries and can create more wide ranging social and cultural problems compared to Western societies, particularly for women.

A central difficulty associated with infertility is that it can transform from an acute, private distress into a harsh, public stigma with complex and devastating consequences.

In some cultures, childless women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. An inability to have a child or to become pregnant can result in being greatly isolated, disinherited or assaulted. This may result in divorce or physical and psychological violence.

Prof. Koigi  Kamau of the University of Nairobi said: “Therefore – Merck More than a Mother – campaign together with University of Nairobi will challenge the perception of infertile women, their roles and worth in society, both within and beyond the medical profession in order to achieve any systemic shift in the current culture of gender discrimination in the context of fertility care.”

“Infertility affects men and women equally. Approximately one-third of cases of couple infertility is due to male factors, one-third to female factors and one-third relates to a combination of male and female factors or has no identifiable cause, today together with Merck and University of Nairobi, we launch ‘Fertility is a shared Responsibility’ initiative to raise awareness about male infertility and encourage men to acknowledge and openly discuss their infertility issues and strive for a team approach to family building with their partners in order to progress toward Shared Fertility Responsibility among couples,” he added.

Lay said the campaign would bring us together with academia, medical students, healthcare providers, policy makers and media to create a culture shift that respects women regardless if she has children or not, it will also raise awareness about male infertility and infertility as a shared responsibility between couples, their families, communities and care providers.”

In order to improve access to safe and effective fertility care , a discussion with the relevant authorities will be needed to discuss the strengthening of infertility services, education, auditing, regulation, community awareness and the need to integrate them with Mother and Child, HIV prevention and Family Planning Programmes, which already exist in health infrastructure.

Merck More Than a Mother will be kicked off across Africa in partnership with government, academia, fertility stakeholders, community and media to create a culture shift across the continent with the aim to reduce the stigmatisation of infertile women in the continent.

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