By Herman Opondo
Infertile women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism, Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda noted that in Africa including Uganda has disclosed.
Speaking in Kampala at the launch of a programme to empower infertile women, the minister said 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,” she said.
Empowering Berna’, a partnership between Merck, a leading science and technology company, with Uganda Ministry of Health, the programme aims to support infertile women across the country through small business empowerment.
“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,” Belén Garijo, Member of Executive Board and CEO of Merck Healthcare emphasized:
Madame Brigitte Touadera, the First Lady of the Central African Republic (CAR) said 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.
“Empowering those women across Ugandan rural villages was very essential, those women suffered great deal of discrimination, violence and isolation. Moreover meeting community members and leaders there to emphasize the importance to change 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,” said Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.
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,” Sarah Opendi added.
“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’,” Rasha Kelej added.
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: Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda; Zuliatu Cooper, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone; Virginie Baikoua, Minister of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, CAR; Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Kenya; Oladapo Ashiru, President of Africa Fertility Society; Joe Simpson, Past President, International Federation of Fertility Societies; Paul Le Roux, President of Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy; Kamini Rao, Chair Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological; and Mohamed Kamal, President of Future Assured Foundation, Nigeria.