Author: Emelia Naa Ayeley Aryee

The month of June has been set aside as the special month to commemorate World Infertility Awareness Month, worldwide.

Thus, Merck Foundation, an international non-governmental organisation championing issues of women’s health, with special focus on breaking infertility stigma against women, has engaged journalists on the upcoming special month.

Purpose of World Infertility Awareness Month

In an address, the CEO for Merck Foundation, Dr. Rasha Kelej, announced that World Infertility Awareness Month is going to be an annual event with health partners to be observed in the month of June.

The agenda of the celebration, she said, is to create a culture shift and break infertility stigma against women and couples in general, in concordance with Merck Foundation’s More than a Mother flagship programme which was created to eliminate stigma in Africa.

Dr. Kelej stressed that women are discriminated against, abused, because of their inability to have a child, when it takes both a man and woman to have a child.

“What we are saying is, it takes men and women to have a child. And men contribute 40% while women also contribute 40% with the 20% as environmental reasons. Why, then, do we target only women as the cause of infertility,” the Merck Foundation CEO averred.

Causes of infertility in Africa

Dr. Kelej noted that infertility in Africa is very high and caused by various factors, including untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Other causes, she enumerated, are reproductive issues, child marriage,

unsafe abortion, and environmental factors.

“Female genital mutilation and Child marriage are the serious causes we need to firmly kick against, it wrong to subject any girl to such practices,” she said emphatically.

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Advocacy, support, education and achievements

The Merck Foundation CEO said there is an urgent need to empower women who suffer the stigma due to their infertility or that of their husband.

Therefore, the education of young girls, community, and children should continue unabated, she advised the journalists.

“Educating and empowering women and young girls is something very important and Merck is keen on it in partnership with all First Ladies in Africa. Education is a strong tool to create culture shift in Africa, Dr. Kelej noted.

She also mentioned sensitization, access of information, introduction of media awards to motivate journalists in doing more stories on the issue of infertility as part of Merck Foundation’s approach to break infertility stigma.

There is also the need to train and equip medical professionals to handle issues of infertility. It is in this vein that in 39 countries across Africa and Asia, about 500 medical practitioners in embryology obtained scholarship to study in UK universities, Dr. Kelej said as part of Merck’s achievements.

“Burundi has unveiled the first public IVF center. A great achievement of Merck Foundation. In Ethiopia, Rwanda, Niger, Myanmar and Bangladesh, Merck Foundation trained the first embryologists, she revealed.

Dr. Kelej announced that a special event will be held on June 1 on women’s issues.

The President of International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS), Dr. Edgar Mocanu, was at the press conference to present the medical perspective on the issues.

He stressed that infertility should be seen as just any one of the medical conditions we know, such as diabetes, malaria, and other health issues.

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“We need to inform people that having infertility is just as having any other medical condition like malaria, diabetes, and any other you can think of. Why, then, the stigmatization,” the IFFS President quizzed.

Dr. Mocanu underscored the fact that IVF treatment is expensive, and called on governments whose countries have no public fertility centers to prioritise it. This is the role of the media, he added.

The President of Africa Reproductive Care Society (ARCS), and President of the Academy of Medicine Specialties of Nigeria, Prof. DR. Oladapo Ashiru OFR, disclosed that environmental toxins play a large role in infertility.

“Talk of mercury, pollutant, heavy metals that attract hemoglobin to themselves and to the uterus, even cream put on the body may contain chemicals that affect fertility,” he revealed.

He gave instances where some women he treated were given new embryos but they could not give birth until they had gotten rid of the chemicals in their body.

“Not many women know this, education must be heightened here. People should also know that infertility is preventable, and once you have it, it is treatable,” Dr. Ashiru stated.

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