By Christabel Addo-GNA
Nairobi, (Kenya) July 12, GNA – About 200 journalist from across Africa have benefited from the first Merck Foundation Media Health Training programme aimed at breaking the stigma on infertility in the continent.
The participants, who were from 17 African countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Gambia, Namibia, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Botswana, Liberia, Cameroon and Sierra Leona, were enlightened on infertility and Associated Reproductive Techniques (ART), including In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
Various experts, forming a panel threw more light on the topic, including the causes of infertility in both men and women, key among these being the improper treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
They also identified stigma as the biggest obstacle to the successful treatment and acceptance of infertility in couples.
It was ascertained that although about 85 per cent of infertility in couples could be treated, yet because the topic continued to be treated as a grey area, often hidden among societies, it created stigma and suffering especially for women within their marriages, as the problem was often blamed on them.
They said women who are often unable to get pregnant after months and years of marriage were humiliated, subjected to dehumanizing conditions, abused by both their communities and spouses, and even to the point that some even lose their lives in these processes.
The Panel therefore called for expanded public education and knowledge through the media, to address the problem.
Dr Rasha Kelej, the Chief Executive Officer of Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany, in her welcome address at the opening of the training in Nairobi, Kenya, said studies had shown that although men contributed to about 50 per cent of infertility cases, they often refuse to admit, or get tested with their wives to identify the source of the problem for treatment.
The training, she explained, was therefore part of the Foundation’s efforts to empower journalists to use their various media tools and channels, to break the ice and stigma associated with infertility in Africa.
It was part of the « Merck more than a Mother » community awareness initiative, to emphasize the important role that media play, to influence societies to create a cultural shift with the aim to break the stigma around infertility in general and infertile women in particular.
Dr Kelej, used the occasion to announce the start of new hashtags #MenToo and #NotoInfertilityStigma, to invite the media from all over Africa to share their opinions and stories on social media on the topic.
She said « I am very happy to initiate this important training session and the two hashtags on the social media platform, inviting all media representatives to share it on their platforms.
#MenToo can be the cause of infertility #MenToo can suffer the infertility stigma and social pressure. #NoToInfertilityStigma for women and #Mentoo is the key message we wish to deliver. »
She stated that there was the need to confront society openly with the truth that infertility could affect both men and women alike, hence the need to change their thinking in order to avoid stigma and rather support, encourage and prevent infections that often led to the problem.
Both Dr Koigi Kamau, the Chairman of the Kenya Fertility Society and Dr Wanjiru Ndengwa, also a Gynecologist and IVF Specialist, spoke on male infertility, causes, as well as the management options respectively, admitting the fact that about 25 per cent of couples faced such challenges and did not know how to handle them.
They called for evidence-based researches that would provide clear data to guide policy formulation in all African counties, especially in the area of providing access to fertility care services and making them affordable to all, in the light of ensuring Universal Health Coverage.
Dr Anurag Batra, the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the BW Business World and Exchange4media, addressing the issue of standards and media ethics, looked at sensationalism verses realism, urging journalists to go beyond the facial news of infant kidnapping, to highlight the other dimensions for such acts, especially by women.
He acknowledged the power of the media, especially radio, in promoting public education and creating health awareness to effect change, and encouraged participants to be ambassadors in their respective countries to eliminate stigma on infertility.
The Merck Health Media Training Programme was however preceded by planned the Merck more than a Mother Media Recognition Awards Ceremony, which was to recognize the winners from East Africa for the 2017 competition.
Dr Kelej later explained the reason of creating this award, saying « We announced the ‘Merck More than a Mother Media Recognition Awards’ in 2017 with the aim to emphasize the role of media in enhancing the public engagement and understanding of infertility stigma and the need to change its social perception in African communities. »
She announced that the competition would now be extended to all the 17 countries that participated in the media training programme and even beyond, to make sure that stigma and education on infertility became a global history.