Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA, Germany in partnership with the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), have vowed to break the infertility stigma around women and to build fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries.
Speaking at the Merck More Than a Mother Regional Conference 2018 in Dubai last month, Dr Rasha Kelei, CEO Merck Foundation said that they “want to bring the healthcare providers, policy makers, academia, women leaders, media, and artists together to define the interventions to break the infertility stigma around women and to build fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries.”
Merck Foundation, she said, is dedicated to empowering women who suffer discrimination and violence due to their inability to bring children, by creating the cultural shift to break the infertility stigma at all levels, not only in Africa, but also in Asia, Latin America and everywhere it is needed.
The high-level panel discussion at the conference included Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of state of Health, Uganda; Hon. Zuliatu Cooper, Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone; Hon. Margaret Mensah-Williams, Chairman of National Council of Namibia; Hon. Dr Chitalu Chilugya, Minister of Health, Zambia, and the CEO OF Merck Foundation, Dr. Rasha Kelej.
Infertility, said Dr Chitalu Chilugya, is one of the major health problems in Zambia. “It is not only affecting the physical health but also the mental well-being and social status of childless women. These women often become invisible to the society, and many a time, they do not want to come in open to seek help because of the social stigma associated with infertility,” said Dr Chilugya adding that together with Merck Foundation, they want to remove the stigma associated with it by creating a cultural shift and building cost-effective fertility care in Zambia.
On her part, Hon. Margaret Mensah-Williams, chair, National Council of Namibia, said, “Infertility is profoundly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, which is said to have an ‘infertility belt’ wrapped around its center.” She said infertility rate is much higher in southern Africa, particularly in Namibia where prevalence rates for some ethnic groups is as high as 32%, or one-third of all couples attempting to conceive. This is why, she added, initiatives like ‘Merck More than a Mother’ are significant for Namibia.
Hon. Zuliatu said Merck Foundation had trained the first two fertility specialists in Sierra Leone adding that for the first time, the infertile couple will be treated in their homeland.
“The journey that Merck Foundation has started is a very special journey that has touched the lives of women who have been forgotten in the communities. It has touched not only women but also the lives of men who have been mistreating their women thinking that infertility is an issue of women, not knowing that 50% infertility is due to the malefactor. I want to thank Merck Foundation for thinking about these women,” said
Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda.
In many Cultures, childless women suffer discrimination, stigma, and ostracism. Their inability to have children results in great isolation, disinheritance, and assaults. Merck More Than a Mother empowers such women through the access to information, health, change of mindsets and economic empowerment.
Merck Foundation provided for more than 50 candidates three-six months clinical and practical training for fertility specialists and embryologists in more than 17 countries across Africa and Asia. Merck Foundation is making history in many African countries where they never had fertility specialists or specialized clinics before ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ intervention, to train the first fertility specialists such as; in Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Gambia, Niger, Chad, and Guinea.
Merck Foundation plan has supported the establishment of the first public IVF in Ethiopia through providing the clinical and practical training necessary for their staff. It also plans to support the establishment of the first public IVF in Tanzania soon.