African First Ladies have committed to using their motherhood gifts, creative arts and community mobilization to put an end to Infertility Stigma across the continent.
The commitment was made by 13 African First Ladies who attended the 8th Edition of the “Merck Foundation Africa -Asia Luminary” 2021 virtual conference opened by Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu.
The 32,000 participants virtual conference was attended by First Ladies from Zambia, Angola, Liberia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central Africa Republic, DR Congo, Ghana, Guinea Mozambique, and Namibia- who are ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ Ambassadors.
‘Merck More Than a Mother’ Ambassadors discussed strategies to build healthcare capacity, respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, provide the necessary training to establish a strong platform of experts in many important and critical specialties in their countries in collaboration with their offices and Ministries of Health.
Amidst this congregation First Lady of the Republic of Namibia, Monica Geingos used her experience of cultural stigma in which she said that the community rebuked her over not having a child with her husband.
“I was forced to make sure I have a child with my husband in order to endorse my marriage. Women are in most cases blamed for infertility but it is not only for women’s issues,” Geingos said.
Geingos said that though she was able to bear children with her husband-President Hage Geingob, she called on a new approach on infertility social and cultural attitudes towards women which she said are increasing stigma among women.
Geingos said Africa needs to create support groups and new ways of discussing infertility on the continent.
“Africa lacks data on infertility yet many treat it through traditional doctors. So we need to think of conversation and non conventional ways of addressing issues of infertility, but one thing we can’t exclude is the role of traditional medicine in treating infertility” Geingos said.
The United Nations reported that nearly one in five women worldwide has experienced violence in the past year.
Geingos said that this means infertile and childless women are suffering even more and more physical and psychological violence and are now trapped at home with their abusers, struggling to access services, they are lonely suffering in silence.
“Through Merck Foundation and my office, we will continue our commitment to empowering infertile women through access to education, information, health, change of mindset, and economic support, even during this unsettling time of Coronavirus lockdown,” Geingos said.
Merck Foundation has been working in various countries to build healthcare capacity in many critical and underserved medical fields such as; Diabetes, cardiovascular, endocrinology, Cancer, Research, Fertility Care, Women Health, Sexual & Reproductive care, Respiratory Medicines, and Acute Medicines.
Other First Ladies, who are also Merck Ambassadors in the Merck More Than a Mother campaign, committed to promoting mass education on infertility as a way of improving women’s welfare especially during the pandemic.
First Lady of Mozambique, Isaura Ferrão Nyusi announced plans to launch the 1st ever post COVID project to train and award all Africa media in reporting sensitive issues such infertility issues, best media practices to break stigma and sensitize communities.
“I am looking forward to launching new editions of these awards. In addition to Merck More Than a Mother Fashion, Film, Song Awards so we can encourage our young talents and youth to create and innovate messages in their art and daily work to create a culture shift of breaking the infertility stigma and supporting girl education.” Mrs Nyusi said.
Merck Foundation CEO Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej underscored their long-term commitment to build healthcare capacity in more African countries and more partners, to realize the vision and lead Africa into a healthy continent.
Kelej said more than 1100 doctor from 42 countries have benefited from Merck Foundation scholarship in field of diabetes, cardiovascular, endocrinology, Cancer, Research, Fertility Care, Women Health, Sexual & Reproductive care, Respiratory, and more will join in the next few years to benefit from more scholarships in more specialties.