NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 12 – One in every four couples in developing countries have been found to be affected by infertility with the burden feared to be gradually on the rise.
In an interview with Capital FM News, Merck Foundation CEO Rasha Kelej said the leading causes include HIV, untreated sexually transmitted diseases, unsafe sex among others.
“Practicing safe sex, avoiding risky behaviours such as smoking, alcoholism can really prevent having infertility in the future. The problem is that infertility has no symptoms until it reaches an irreversible stage,” noted Kelej.
Kelej further reiterated that at least 25 per cent of couples in the productive age in Africa are infertile, with majority of the cases going untreated due to late diagnosis.
In 2010, among women 20-44 years of age that were exposed to the risk of pregnancy, 1.9 per cent were unable to attain a live birth (primary infertility).
Out of women who had had at least one live birth and were exposed to the risk of pregnancy, 10.5 per cent were unable to have another child (secondary infertility).
The WHO statistics (1990 to 2010) further indicated that infertility prevalence was highest in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa/Middle East, and Central/Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
In Kenya, the condition affects people from all walks of life. Although able people in the society can access treatment, while those from the rural and marginalised regions grapple with stigmatisation culminating from cultural practices and beliefs.
In some cultures, childless women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism.
An inability to have a child or to become pregnant can result in being greatly isolated, disinherited or assaulted.
This often results in divorce or physical and psychological violence.
“Merck more than a mother initiative aims to empower infertile women through access to information, education and health and by changing mind-sets,” stated Kelej.
There is no current statistic on how many couples or families have been affected by infertility in Kenya.
“Global infertility prevalence rates are difficult to determine, due to the presence of both male and female factors which complicate any estimate which may only address the woman and an outcome of a pregnancy diagnosis or live birth,” she reiterated.
How should Kenya approach matters to do with infertility?
Empowering women with infertility should comprise providing medical education and trainings for healthcare providers and governments to define policies to improve access to awareness and safe, effective and fertility care, stated the foundation.
“There is also need for interventions to reduce stigmatization and social suffering of infertile women, as well as the necessity for a team approach to family building among couples.”
Although male-related factors contribute about half of all cases of infertility, women are also overwhelmingly perceived as being the party responsible for a couple’s infertility, and subsequently the social suffering associated with infertility tends to be greater towards them than their husbands. With the fact that women are seen pregnant and giving birth, the burden of infertility is often assumed to fault them more than men.
There are key challenges to be addressed which are associated with resource constraints such as prevention of infertility, education, self-development, in-vitro-fertilization regulation and geographic barriers.
There are differences between the developed and developing world which emerge because of the difference in availability of safe, effective and equitable infertility care and different socio-cultural value surrounding parenthood and procreation.
“The Merck Foundation will focus on initiatives that will contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations. To achieve the foundations’ goals, we will develop and implement coherent strategies, result- oriented programs and initiatives, provide grants to support projects and help raise funds where needed,” said Kelej of the Merck Foundation.
In line with the Merck more than a mother initiative, the foundation seeks to empower infertile women including men through access to information, education and health and by changing mind-sets to demystify the myth surrounding Infertility.
“In partnership with academia and international fertility societies, the initiative also provides medical education and training for healthcare providers and embryologists to build and advance fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries.”
“It is all about giving every woman the respect and the help she deserves to live a fulfilling life, with or without a child,” said Kelej.