African First Ladies Pledge Support To End Infertility Stigma

First Lady Mrs. Rebecca Akufo-Addo.

First Ladies in Africa have pledged their collective resolve to partner ‘Merck More Than A Woman’ initiative to create greater awareness on infertility and cancers, which are perceived mostly to afflict women.

The First Ladies of Ghana, Senegal, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone and Zambia made the pledge at the opening ceremony of the fifth edition of the ‘Merck Africa Asia Luminary Conference’ in Dakar, Senegal.

The two-day event coincided with the first anniversary of Merck Foundation (MF) and the 350 year milestone of Merck Germany.

Ghana’s First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo and her colleagues pledged to become ambassadors of infertility and partner with MF to mainstream issues of childlessness in women, which lead to violence, discrimination, stigma and ostracism by society.

She assured that her office would partner the Ghana Fertility Society to dispel the negative perception about childlessness since empirical research shows that over 50 per cent of the problems can be attributed to men.

She said, “Stigma is painful and stressful. Stigma is unjust. No blame or shift blame to the men as stigma for men will be same also.”

The first ladies pledged to maintain an aggressive media action towards changing the embedded socio-cultural attitudes that influence finger-pointing at women when fertility issues emerge.

First Lady Mareame Sall of Senegal said there is a good relationship between health and quality of life and promised to strive to achieve that for the people in Senegal.

First Lady Fatima Maada Bio of Sierra Leone stated that there was the need to change the narrative and socio-cultural attitudes that confound childlessness and called for an emergency programme to assist women in her country.

She made an appeal to MF and global development partners to come to the aid of the country to construct a specialised cancer care unit for diagnosis and treatment, as well as training of experts to save lives.

Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MF & President of Merck ‘More Than A Mother’, indicated that the campaign seeks more partnerships with Africa and Asia towards eliminating the challenges in the health sector.

“Our aim is to contribute to improving access to quality and equitable healthcare solutions and capacity in the field of diabetes, oncology, hypertension and infertility,” she mentioned.

Dr. Kelej said MF spent about €5 million for the training of experts across Africa and Asia in its preferred area of fertility, oncology, diabetes and hypertension with about 500 beneficiaries of women groupings being gainers also.

She added that MF is now focusing on implementing a project in partnership with first ladies’ offices across Africa towards mainstreaming the ‘Merck More Than A Mother’ initiative, Merck Oncology (Cancer) Access Programme and called for enrolment for diabetes experts.

Dr. Kelej disclosed that 84 embryologists and fertility experts have completed training modules in a bid to overcome the challenges of infertility and associated stigma.

She said MF would train more professionals to take up the tasks of assisting the masses, especially women.


By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri