A lot of women in Uganda and other developing countries carry the social burden of a couple’s failure to have children with them.
Childless African women are discriminated, ostracised and stigmatised when a couple fails to have children, even when sometimes the man is to blame. Men are rarely blamed when a couple is childless. The men also go on rampage to find other women who can bear for them children or specially a heir.
'Barrenness Amid Plenty'
Uganda is in the 'Africa infertility belt' that stretches from Tanzania to the East and Gabon to the West. Here 'barrenness amid plenty' is a common phrase that means infertility exists in a high fertility region. Uganda’s fertility rate remains among the highest in the world, about 6 children per woman.
Lady Nakintu, a childless old woman was once told by a pastor that "childless people do not go to heaven". She cried herself sick. No consolation, from the community women, could reconcile her with going to church ever again. She hit the bottle, drinking all sorts of booze and died two months after.
A New Hope in East Africa
Now such people may have hope as Merck, a leading science and technology company, provides training for African embryologists in Indonesia starting with candidates from Uganda and Kenya.
Training African embryologists will offer a viable alternative to infertile African couples as most of them seek treatment from herbalists. Hopefully, the African embryologists services will be cheap as such couples cannot afford In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) services because of the exorbitant prices.
Merck through its "Merck More Than A Mother" campaign will start the African Embryologists Training Program in partnership with Indonesian Reproductive Science Institute (IRSI) with the aim to improve access to quality and safe fertility care across the African continent.
“Merck More Than A Mother” campaign, is a pan-African initiative aimed to build fertility capacity, raise awareness about infertility prevention and male infertility. It also opens a dialogue to define interventions to reduce the stigma and social suffering of infertile women in Africa which includes discrimination and, physical and psychological violence.
The initiative was announced on the International Women’s Day 8th March 2016.
“Countless women in Africa face fear, abuse and discrimination every day simply because they are infertile,” said Belén Garijo, Member of the Executive Board of Merck and CEO Healthcare in a statement.
“After Kenya, we are proud to launch the More Than A Mother campaign in Uganda and work with the Ministry of Health, the medical community and parliamentarians to change perceptions and reduce the harsh social suffering of infertile women in Africa.”
The campaign was first implemented in Kenya in 2015 and is being rolled out this year in Uganda, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) and Africa Fertility Society (AFS) and progressively rolled-out in more African countries.
Minister of State for Health for Uganda, Hon. Sarah Opendi said the campaign addresses a very sensitive topic for the first time in Africa, which exists but no one wants to talk about it.
“This initiative will help to empower infertile women by improving access to information and change in the culture and mindset,” said Opendi.
“Most Sub-Saharan African countries don’t have trained embryologists hence providing training to our embryologists will contribute significantly to improve the quality and accessibility to fertility care to couples in Uganda and Africa so that they can start their families,” she added.
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.
Dr. James Olobo-Lalobo, Vice-President of Africa Fertility Society said together with Merck,
“we can challenge the perception about 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”.
Cover Image, Collecting water | CIFOR