The First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, and the Mercks Foundation have launched Ghana’s version of a sub-Saharan African campaign aimed at sensitising communities to the need to re-look at issues of prevention of male and female infertility among couples.
Dubbed “Merck More than a Mother campaign”, it sets out to create awareness and also educate people on the need not to see infertility as a women’s problem alone but also as an issue to which men contribute 50 per cent of the causative factors.
Merck Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Merck, a German multinational pharmaceutical, chemical and life sciences company and it launched the Merck More than a Mother campaign in May 2018 in Namibia as an initiative for the sub-region.
At the launch of the campaign in Accra last Monday, the First Lady was named the “Merck More than a Mother” Ambassador.
With support from the First Lady through her Rebecca Foundation, the initiative aims to empower infertile women through access to information, education and health and by changing mindsets.
The initiative also supports governments in defining policies to enhance access to regulated, safe and effective fertility care.
As part of the campaign, which is also in collaboration with the Fertility Society of Ghana (FERSOG), the initiative will help address the need for interventions to break the stigma around infertile women.
In partnership with academia and international fertility societies, the initiative will also provide medical education and training for healthcare providers and embryologists to build and advance fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries.
Data from fertility experts indicate that the causes of infertility among couples were 50 per cent from men and 50 per cent from women.
According to the experts, although those infertility issues could be resolved when tackled early, most people became aware later in life when infertility had already set in.
A major cause of infertility in men and women are said be untreated infections while 85 per cent of infertility among couples are treatable.
The First Lady and the Merck Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Dr Rasha Kelej, will co-host the sixth edition of Merck Africa-Asia Luminary in Accra from October 29 to October 30, 2019 as part of the sensitisation activities.
Mrs Akufo-Addo, in her address, revealed that “before I attended last year’s event in Senegal, I was surprised to learn that one in every four couples in developing countries suffer infertility”.
That, she said, was a very high prevalence rate, adding that “what disturbed me most was that majority of infertility cases are due to infectious diseases, such as sexually transmitted diseases, genital mutilation, unsafe abortion and unsafe delivery.
These are mostly preventable. I am, therefore, pleased that the main objective of the Merck More Than a Mother campaign is prevention”.
In October 2018, the First Lady, 10 African First Ladies and 12 ministers of health were in Senegal to celebrate the first anniversary of the Merck Foundation and the fifth edition of Merck Africa Asia Luminary in Senegal.
The ceremony attracted more than a thousand African healthcare providers from 58 countries who benefited from several medical education sessions.
According to the First Lady, “this year, we aim to invite more First Ladies and ministers of health and participants from more than 60 countries to come to Ghana and share knowledge and experience, with the aim to improve access to equitable and innovative healthcare solutions”.
“We are also partnering the creative industry to address infertility. Consequently we are working with both the National Film and Television Institute (NVTI) and the Ghana Fashion Academy to come up with songs, movies and innovative ideas to reach out to the youth with messages on breaking the stigma of infertile women,” she added.
Mrs Akufo-Addo commended the foundation saying, “Indeed our partnership with Merck has been most beneficial to Ghana.”
Between 2017 and 2018, Merck Foundation provided scholarships to five doctors from Ghana to undertake a one-year diploma course in diabetes and cardiovascular preventive medicines in the UK.
The foundation, through its Merck Cancer Access Programme, has also provided one year and two years oncology fellowship and masters degree programmes for Ghanaian doctors to study at Tata Memorial Hospital in India and Cairo University in Egypt. Additionally, Merck Foundation has trained many embryologists.
In her address, the CEO of Merck Foundation, Dr Rasha Kelej, said it had initiated a cultural shift to de-stigmatise infertility on all levels by improving awareness, training the skills of local experts, building advocacy in cooperation with decision makers and by supporting childless women in starting their own small businesses.
The foundation, she said, was about giving every woman the respect and the help she deserved to live a fulfilling life, with or without a child.
The Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman Manu, said hitherto, infertility among couples was seen as a taboo word but today, people have become more aware of the issues involved.
He called on couples to seek alternative remedies as “science has overcome issues of infertility”.
The Minister of Gender, Children and interacting with Social Protection, Mrs Cynthia Morrison, called on couples to consider the issue of adoption when infertility set in.
She said her ministry was working on making adoption processes less cumbersome for interested people.
The President of the Fertility Society of Ghana, Dr Edem Hiadzi, in a welcome address, said more men currently understood the issues of infertility in marriages and were reporting together with their wives for treatment.
He said the “More than a mother campaign” would help increase the awareness further to educate more people to understand and accept issues of infertility in marriage.