Columnists Features

Infertility: Merck more than a mother, father

IN OUR Zambian society, we tend to be quite insensitive towards issues of infertility. Why do I say so? For instance, when a couple gets married, barely a month down the line, family and friends will start pressurising the newly-weds with questions as to when they will have their first-born child, or why they are ‘delaying’ to have another child, and the like.
Getting constant questions and comments of this nature for someone who has infertility issues negatively affects one’s life. Therefore, we as a society need to help tackle this matter by giving hope for tomorrow to those faced with infertility issues.
Statistics, according to World Health Organisation, state that more than 180 million couples, which is about one in four couples, suffer from primary or secondary infertility.
Infertility is still a huge challenge in Africa, and Zambia in particular, which needs every individual’s attention. In sub-Saharan Africa, infertility is said to be caused by infections in over 85 percent of women as compared to only 33 percent world over.
With such statistics prevailing, it is the reason Merck Foundation has today spearheaded a three-day interaction with 19 African First Ladies and over 2,000 medical experts. This eighth edition of the annual Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary, which is being hosted by Zambia virtually, will highlight the concerns and interests that His Excellency President Edgar Lungu and First Lady Esther Lungu, have to share with the region.
During the fifth edition of this conference, Mrs Lungu had emphasised on the need for Africa to change its cultural mind-set on infertility prevention, and stop the blame game, which squarely always falls on women.
Mrs Lungu said: “We need to create a cultural shift about infertility prevention, which is aligned with my [Esther Lungu Foundation Trust] programmes of ending child marriages and teenage pregnancies in Zambia. Women need to be encouraged to speak out about infertility prevention.”
Indeed, today, her words deserve to be echoed as loudly as possible as Africa meets to brainstorm on how best issues of infertility can be tackled without injuring those affected, but giving them hope for a better tomorrow.
Of course, infertility is not the only issue that this high-level meeting is going to tackle. President Lungu, the African First Ladies, ministers and medical experts will begin their three-day meeting discussing healthcare and social issues that can be addressed to contribute to the socio-economic development plan in Africa, advance healthcare, media and awareness capacities and capabilities in the region.
Merck Foundation chief executive officer Senator Rasha Kelej has emphasised thus: “Together, we will discuss our strategy to build healthcare capacity and establish a strong platform of specialised trained medical experts to define interventions to break infertility stigma and support girl education.”
Experts say that some traditional, cultural and religious practices, combined with low resource environment in Africa, are said to be associated with higher levels of non-genetic and preventable causes of infertility such as poor nutrition, untreated sexually transmitted diseases and unsafe abortions.
What then should keep us glued to the outcome of this high-level meeting? Our leaders and medical experts will be brainstorming on possible solutions that can be implemented in infertility prevention.
If only Zambia, and Africa at large, will stay committed to addressing infertility among men and women in societies, we shall indeed achieve the aim of ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ and ‘Merck More Than a Father’ campaign programmes. Let’s help prevent infertility.
The author is a senior sub-editor at Zambia Daily Mail.

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