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Merck launches infertility programme in Uganda

Published on 22/02/16 at 09:57am
Sarah Opendi and Rasha Kelej at the campaign's launch

Germany's Merck has extended its infertility programme ‘Merck More than a Mother’ to Uganda, launching the campaign in a second African country, following its implementation in Kenya last year.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Africa Fertility Society (AFS) and the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association, the campaign aims to address the problem of stigma attached to infertility, and tackle the issue by providing training for embryologists and education for healthcare providers, while supporting the government to define policies to improve access to safe and effective fertility care, as well as raising awareness about male infertility. Sarah Opendi, Uganda’s Health Minister, will be ambassador to the programme.

Merck says that it will partner with local stakeholders to address the key challenges associated with resource-constrained settings: including prevention of infertility, education and self-development, regulation of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), geographic barriers, reproductive rights and over-population and limited resources arguments.

This is the second health programme launched in Uganda by Merck in February, following the recent collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Health on cancer awareness. The company has been active in Africa in recent months, having announced an extensive expansion of its operations on the continent in 2015.

Merck, a leading company in the fertility space through its biopharma business Serono, says it will progressively roll out the fertility programme to additional African countries in the near future.

Rasha Kelej, chief social officer, Merck Healthcare, comments: “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.”

The Ugandan Minister of State of Health, Sarah Opendi said during her speech at the campaign: “We are happy to partner with reputable and innovative companies such as Merck. We believe that improving access to regulated and equitable fertility care is important, but it is even more important to intervene to decrease stigmatisation and social suffering arising from this condition.

“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,” Opendi added.

Dr Oladapo Adenrele Ashiru, president of Africa Fertility Society, explains: “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 emphasises 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.”

Joel Levy

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