By Ogova Ondego
Published June 23, 2015
A leading international health-care and life science company has launched a campaign aimed at reducing social stigma against infertile women in Kenya.
The company, Merck KGaA of Germany, says it is collaborating with University of Nairobi’s School of Medicine and Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) on its ‘More Than a Mother’ initiative that seeks to “provide medical education and awareness for medical students and general practitioners” and “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.”
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In a Press Release issued in Nairobi on June 23, 2015, Merck KGaA says it will tackle “the key challenges that are associated with resource-constrained settings such as prevention of infertility, education & self-development, assisted reproductive technology (ART) & in-vitro fertilization (IVF) regulation, geographic barriers, reproductive rights and over-population and limited resources arguments.”
World Health Organization (WHO) data says that one in every four couplesâ€”more than 180 million couples in developing countriesâ€”suffers from primary or secondary infertility. According to the data quoted by Merck KGaA, infertility in Sub-Saharan Africa is caused by infections in more than 85% of women compared to 33% worldwide. This, Merck says, stresses the importance of infertility prevention programmes on the mother continent.
“Differences between the developed and developing world are emerging because of the different availability in safe, effective and equitable infertility care, as well as different socio-cultural values surrounding parenthood and procreation since the social stigma of childlessness especially for infertile women still leads to isolation and stigmatization in many African cultures,” Merck says.
During her meeting with University of Nairobi and Kenya Women Parliamentary Association to kick off the campaign, BelÃ©n Garijo, Member of the Executive Board of Merck and CEO Merck Healthcare, emphasised â€œProviding access to infertility care is important, but it is even more important to intervene to decrease stigmatization and social suffering arising from this condition.â€
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.
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 University of Nairobi said Merck’s initiative “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.â€
Saying infertility affected men and women equally, Prof Kamau explained that “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.”
Joyce Lay, a Women’s Representative in Kenya’s Parliament, 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” irrespective of whether they have children. “It will also raise awareness about male infertility and infertility as a shared responsibility between couples, their families, communities and care providers.â€