"MeRck More than a Mother" Campaign: Pan African dialogue to empower infertile women in Africa and Developing countries

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Watch this video for a summary of our Pan African dialogue to empower infertile women in Africa

The "Merck More than a Mother" Campaign’s contribution to empower infertile women in Africa has been recognised with the “African Alliances HE for SHE” award from African Alliances of Women Empowerment. The award given to Prof. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp, Chairman of Executive Board and Family Board of E. Merck KG during the 11th African Congress for Women Entrepreneurs held in Egypt also recognises Merck’s efforts to empower women in the field of research and healthcare through the Merck Capacity Advancement Program and UNESCO–Merck Africa Research Summit.

A high level panel discussion of the ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ campaign was held during the first day of the congress. Hon. Sarah Opendi, Uganda’s Minister of Health; Hon. Jean Kalilani, Malawi’s Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare; Hon. Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia’s Minister of Gender and Social Affairs; Hon. Dr. Lanre Tejuoso, Chairman of Nigeria’s Senate Committee on Health; Hon. Qedani Dorothy Mahlangu, Member of Executive Committee on Health, Gauteng Government, South Africa; and members of parliament and academicians from Uganda, Kenya, Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, were engaged in a discussion to define the campaign’s objectives and interventions across Africa. A call of action and commitment were made to kick off the campaign in each participating country during 2016 and 2017.

Below are videos and highlights of statements made by the panellists on empowering infertile women through the “Merck More than a Mother” campaign in Africa

"It is not always the fault of the woman when there is no child, but in our culture it is. We need to speak out as both men and women can be affected by infertility. We need to change our culture, tradition, attitude and mindset and link it with human rights. These can be modified and changed. We hope this campaign can be extended to other African countries so that awareness can grow".

H.E.Hon.Julia Duncan Cassell, Minister of Gender, Liberia

"We need to break the silence on infertility because fertility is a shared responsibility. In Uganda, 10-15% of couples fail to have children. We have recognized the problem and we are using existing structures to address the issue and implementing the “Merck More than a Mother” campaign is one of the priorities. Uganda also has a challenge of fertility service providers as we only have five clinics which are in the capital city only. Rural areas have no access. Merck has offered to train embryologists who will be placed in government facilities to address this challenge."

H.E.Hon.Sarah Opendi, Minister of Health, Uganda

"In Malawi, the social stigma of childlessness is very high and it leads to isolation and stigmatization. Though men contribute to more than half of the infertility women are considered the failures. I call upon all African men and women to remember that it takes two to tango. Let us change our mindset and ensure that a couple goes through fertility tests before conclusions are made. Malawi invites Merck to launch “Merck More than a Mother” campaign in the country."

H.E.Hon.Jean Kalilani, Minister for Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Malawi

"The stigma of infertility is not an African problem but it is stronger in Africa where societies are more traditional. We have to work closely with governments to give information because to change a culture takes a lot of effort from all, it has to come from top down and it also has to start from the bottom as well. We need the help of everyone, governments, NGOs and women to come forward and speak up to try and change it. It’s a worthwhile cause to take."

Prof.Dr.Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp, Chair of Executive Board and Family Board of Merck

“Nigeria has a population of 180 million people and so also has a big infertility problem. When there is infertility people believe it’s more spiritual than physical. Therefore, MPs have a big role to play as they can go all over the country to educate people and I commit to be an ambassador of “Merck More than a Mother” campaign in Nigeria.

Hon.Dr.Lanre Tejuoso, Chairman, Senate Committee of Health, Nigeria

"In Kenya, together with other women MPs and stakeholders involved in fertility we championed the IVF bill and came up with a good law that also allows us to create awareness of options available when you cannot have a baby naturally. We have now passed the ART bill in the national assembly to cover all other methods and it is now awaiting to be signed into law. This is a big achievement for women in Kenya. What we know need to do is to create awareness".

Hon.Joyce Lay,Member of Parliament, Taita Taveta, Kenya

"Lack of trained and skilled professionals in Africa is a challenge especially embryologists who are key in infertility treatment. We are supporting embryologist training in Africa and we have already sent out the first two trainees from Uganda and Kenya to Indonesia for three months. And the rest will follow. We are also building advocacy with stakeholders and also empowering infertile women with information and education to build awareness and change of mindset and also those who can no longer have children, helping them establish small businesses so that they can build their own independent and happier lives."

Rasha Kelej,Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare

"As parliament we can make laws to remove the cultural barriers that suppress women and get a budget that can allow those from rural areas to access fertility treatment by enabling the Ministry of Health to establish fertility treatment centers in rural hospitals. As MPs we also need to provide information and education and push the Merck More than a Mother Campaign to the local level so that women can know that there are options available and where they can access treatment. We also need to allocate money to train health workers and build their capacity to diagnose infertility conditions that require simple treatment and to also give the correct information".

Hon. Betty Amongi, Chair of Uganda Women Parliamentary Association

"The Merck More than a Mother Campaign is an eye opener for me as in Tanzania infertility is also a big problem. There are many women who are suffering and there is a lot of ignorance about infertility and as parliamentarians we have to be agents of change. I will sensitize fellow members of parliament especially men given that 50% of infertility is as a result of the man. I congratulate Merck for breaking the silence on infertility and look forward to see Merck launch the campaign in Tanzania."

Hon.Susan Lyimo,Vice Chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus of Tanzania

"Women are the symbols of fertility and men’s masculinity does not allow them to acknowledge that they could be infertile. As such the stigma is on women who suffer physical abuse and even rejection. I express my support for the Merck More than a Mother Campaign."

Hon.Maria Angelina Enoque, Member of Parliament, Mozambique

"In Angola, stigma of infertility is a big problem. People normally turn to magicians for a solution which increases the severity of the condition. We have an MOU with Merck and Augustine Netto University. Through this we are going to educate both men and women to have a better understanding of infertility."

Prof.Santos Nicolau, Dean of Augustine University, Angola

"In South Africa reproductive rights are enshrined in the constitution that allows women to access reproductive health care. We have a centre of excellence in one of our public hospitals that provides fertility treatment including IVF and the work here is transforming people’s lives. We would want to expand these services to the rest of the population especially through public facilities because they are very expensive in the private sector. We can work together with Merck in the education of our health workers and also in spreading information and education so that women can take responsibility."

Hon.Qedani Dorothy Mahlangu, Member of Executive Committee, Health, Gauteng Government, South Africa

"Women are the ones who seek help when they cannot get children. Yet in most of the cases doctors keep treating women who have no problem. Men need to accompany their women to the clinic. When men do this the success rate of fertility treatment is higher."

Prof.Oladapo Ashiru, President, Africa Fertility Society

"Embryology is a highly technical skill and it’s more of lab work under a microscope. Its output is fundamental to the success of a pregnancy. It’s a critical input in the human resource requirement for ART. In Africa the situation is severe, acute and critical. For example in Uganda there are only six clinics and two embryologists. In recognition of this Merck picked up this gap and in discussions with the Africa Fertility Society decided to do something about the training of embryologists and this has started in Indonesia. The importance of the training lies in seeing what has worked and not worked well so that training program can be rolled out to the rest of Africa. This is the multiplier effect we want to see come through from the training. The training is not for export or immigration for the trainees to seek greener pastures elsewhere. This is training for Africa. When they are back to their countries they will be integrated into the preventive and curative services. Together we can cause a cultural shift and as well as in the scientific development."

Dr.James Olobo-Lalobo, Vice President, Africa Fertility Society

"In Latin America and even in my country Mexico the problem of infertility is there and is very similar to what is in Africa. People keep quiet and feel that it is a shame to be infertile and say that it is not a big issue but they are suffering. We need such a campaign all over South America and I hope we can begin one here".

Dr. Yasmin Darwich, President International Federation for Business and Professional Women

Watch the video below for the full story of our Pan African dialogue to empower infertile women across the continent

Participating in the dialogue are from left to right: Dr. Yasmin Darwich, President International Federation for Business and Professional Women; Prof. Santos Nicolau, Dean of Augustine University, Angola; Dr. James Olobo-Lalobo, Vice-President of Africa Fertility Society; Dr. Amany Asfour, First Vice President International Federation for Business and Professional Women, Chair of the Board of African Alliance for Women Empowerment (as Founder of BPW Egypt); H.E. Amb. Mona Omar Chair of International Relations Committee National Council of Women – Egypt; …

The story of "Empowering Berna"

During the event, they announced the start of a new initiative as part of "Merck More than a Mother" called "Empowering Berna"

Berna Amullen is a Ugandan woman who suffered infertility as a result of an untreated Sexually Transmitted Disease - STD. Berna was diagnosed too late to be given proper treatment and she lost the hope of being a mother and leading a happy life.

In her video, Berna shared her devastating story of mistreatment, discrimination and violence by her husband, family and community due to her infertility condition. She speaks about her attempt to commit suicide and how she was saved at the last moment.

"Merck More than a Mother” has provided support for Berna to start her own business. She built a chicken farm so that she can have a steady monthly income and support herself. Moreover, she has also been provided with the training needed to run and sustain her chicken business.

She is now More than a Mother. She is proud, independent and happier.

She has become a productive member in her community and not only a sad and hopeless person

Watch the story of "Empowering Berna"

Stay tuned to see how "Merck More than a Mother" has changed the lives of many childless women in Africa through “Empowering Berna” Project