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Minister Opendi to lead campaign against infertility stigma in Uganda

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Merck, a leading science and technology company, has announced the appointment of the State Minister for Health Sarah Opendi, as the ambassador of “Merck More Than a Mother” campaign in Uganda in recognition for her support and efforts to reduce the stigma of infertility and raise awareness about the condition in the country.

The announcement was made at the launch of its second “Merck More than a Mother” campaign in Africa and for the first time in Uganda as part of the Merck Capacity Advancement Program.

Minister Opendi said the country was happy to partner with reputable and innovative companies like Merck.

“We believe that improving access to regulated and equitable fertility care is important, but it is even more important to intervene to decrease stigmatization and social suffering arising from this condition” she said at the launch.

The campaign was first implemented in Kenya in 2015 and will be implemented this year in Uganda, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Africa Fertility Society (AFS) and the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association, and progressively rolled-out in more African countries.´

The campaign will provide training for embryologists and education for healthcare providers and will also 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. Themed “Together we can create a culture shift”, the “Merck More than a Mother” social media campaign will challenge the social and cultural perception of infertile women in Africa. Moreover it will raise awareness about male infertility, prevention of infertility and infertility management at large.

“In some cultures, childless women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. As such, a central difficulty associated with infertility is that it can transform from an acute, private distress into a harsh public stigma with complex and devastating consequences. 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. Therefore this campaign is very important for Africa since it aims to define interventions to reduce the stigma and social suffering of infertile women across the continent,” said Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.

Dr. James Olobo-Lalobo, Vice-President of Africa Fertility Society stressed: “Through this historic campaign, Merck More than a Mother’, we will 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.”

Through this campaign Merck, a pioneer in reproductive health, will address together with local stakeholders, the key challenges that are associated with resource-constrained settings such as prevention of infertility, education and self-development, regulation of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF), geographic barriers, reproductive rights and over-population and limited resources arguments.

Dr. Oladapo Adenrele Ashiru, President of Africa Fertility Society explained: “In Nigeria where I practice, infertility is caused by infections in over 85% of women, like in the rest of Africa, compared to 33% worldwide which emphasizes the importance of prevention programs in Africa. Therefore our partnership with Merck is very essential to address this sensitive topic for the first time in the continent”. “We are going to host this important campaign in Nigeria and many other African countries this year,” he added.

Hon Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament and ambassador of the campaign in Kenya, has joined hands with Uganda Ministry of Health and Uganda Women Parliamentary Association to raise awareness about male infertility. “In order to improve access to safe and effective fertility care, a discussion with the relevant authorities will be needed to discuss the strengthening of infertility services, education, auditing, regulation, community awareness and the need to integrate them in programs which already exist in the local health infrastructure,” Ms Lay emphasized.

At the launch event, Merck awarded Berna Amulen, a Ugandan woman, who openly shared her story of stigmatization and suffering for being infertile. The award was in recognition of her courage in creating awareness and sharing her devastating experience so that no other woman would suffer the same.

 

 

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