Merck, a leading science and technology company (known in the UK as MSD), today continued their commitment for the second year to empower infertile women in Uganda through improving access to information, health, change of mind-set and economic empowerment.
Through ‘Empowering Berna’, Merck in partnership with Uganda Ministry of Health today inaugurated small businesses that been established this year to support infertile women across the country.
The day’s program also included a courtesy visit to Uganda’s First Lady H.E. Janet Museveni at State House, Kampala by the Merck delegation to brief her on the ‘Merck More than a Mother’ initiative and to explore possible areas of collaboration.
The Merck More than a Mother initiative was initially launched in Kenya, before being rolled out in other African countries.
The delegation included Hon Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament at Kenya National Assembly and MERCK More Than a Mother infertility Ambassador.
Also attending were H.E. Madame Brigitte Touadera, First Lady, Central African Republic; Sarah Opendi, Minister of State for Health, Uganda; Belen Garijo, CEO, Merck Healthcare; Virginie Baiokua, Minister of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, Central African Republic; Zuliatu Cooper, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone; Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare; and Lina Ekomo, Central African Republic.
Speaking at the event, Belén Garijo, Member of Executive Board and CEO of Merck Healthcare emphasized: “I believe in women empowerment and especially childless women – they are mistreated and discriminated in many cultures for being unable to have children and start a family. Empowering these women through access to information, health, and change of mind set to remove the stigma of infertility is needed. Through ‘Merck More than a Mother’ we are supporting this strong message together with our partners and we will continue our commitment to improve access to regulated and effective fertility care in Africa.”
“In Africa including Uganda, infertile women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. More often an inability to have a child or to become pregnant results in the woman being greatly isolated, disinherited or assaulted. This sometimes also results in divorce or physical and psychological violence. I am glad to see an initiative that addresses this challenge in the public domain in Africa as it is something that no one talks about and is treated as secret. ‘Merck More than a Mother’ is therefore very important for Africa since it aims to define interventions to reduce the stigma and social suffering of infertile women across the continent,” said, Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda.
Madame Brigitte Touadera, the First Lady of the Central African Republic (CAR) said: “I am very happy to participate in today’s launch another milestone of ‘Merck More than a Mother’ in Uganda as it follows the one we had for the Central African Republic (CAR) last month and in Kenya yesterday. As the champion for the initiative in CAR and for Francophone Africa, I acknowledge the social suffering infertile women go through and the role that ‘Merck More than a Mother’ is playing to eliminate this suffering and stigmatization by raising awareness about infertility prevention, male infertility and the necessity of a team approach to family building among couples which is very critical for Africa.”
Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare explained: “Empowering those women across Ugandan rural villages was very essential, those women suffered great deal of discrimination, violence and isolation. Moreover meeting community members and leaders there to emphasize the importance to change their perception of infertility and infertile women in specific was very productive. I have witnessed firsthand the instant change of their mind-set and the transformation of those vulnerable childless women to strong, proud and productive community members.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lower levels of development are thought to be associated with higher levels of non-genetic and preventable causes of infertility such as poor nutrition, untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unsafe abortion, consequence of infections caused by the practice of female genital mutilation, exposure to smoking and to leaded petrol and other environmental pollutants. Hence prevention awareness is very important,” Sarah Opendi added.
“The businesses established by ‘Empowering Berna’ project are benefitting over 800 women in many districts in Uganda who have come together in groups and have been trained and supported to establish bakery, catering and tent hire businesses and more. They are currently able to earn an income to support themselves from their own new businesses – they are now ‘more than mothers’,” Rasha Kelej added.
Over 1,000 infertile women in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, CAR, Ethiopia, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire who can no longer be treated have been empowered socially and economically to lead independent and happier lives through ‘Empowering Berna’.
The event in Uganda was attended by policy makers including ministers and fertility experts and included: Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda; Zuliatu Cooper, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone; Virginie Baikoua, Minister of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, CAR; Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Kenya; Oladapo Ashiru, President of Africa Fertility Society; Joe Simpson, Past President, International Federation of Fertility Societies; Paul Le Roux, President of Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy; Kamini Rao, Chair International Institute for Training & Research in Reproductive Health, India; and Mohamed Kamal, President of Future Assured Foundation, Nigeria.
Merck More than a Mother
The aim of Merck More than a Mother is to empower infertile women in Africa through improving access to information, health, change mind-set and economic empowerment. Please visit to MerckMoreThanaMother.com for more information.
Its strategy and objectives are:
- Create a culture shift to de-stigmatize infertility and to build respect and understanding around infertile women in Africa.
- Raise awareness about infertility prevention management and male infertility by integrating the topics into existing healthcare infrastructure, such as HIV, maternal health, and mother and child programs.
- Education and training for African embryologists to build the needed capacity.
- Supporting policy makers to define artificial reproductive therapy (ART) policies to improve access to regulated fertility care.
- Building advocacy and open dialogue and working closely with governments, policy makers, parliaments, healthcare providers, fertility experts and the media to define interventions that will reduce social suffering and improve access to regulated, effective and safe fertility care in Africa.
- Empowering infertile women socially and economically through access to education and healthcare, and by changing mind-sets. For example, empowering women who cannot be treated by helping them to start a small business through the “Empowering Berna” project.
More than a Mother in Kenya
The Kenyan “More than a Mother” campaign was launched in 2015 as a collaboration between the University of Nairobi, Kenya Women Parliamentary Association Merck, University of Nairobi and the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association.
The campaign was launched as part of the Merck Capacity Advancement Program. The campaign was first be implemented in Kenya before being progressively rolled out in further African countries.
Merck state that “in some cultures, childless women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. As such, a central difficulty associated with infertility is that it can transform from an acute, private distress into a harsh, public stigma with complex and devastating consequences.
“An inability to have a child or to become pregnant can result in being greatly isolated, disinherited or assaulted. This may result in divorce or physical and psychological violence.
During her meeting with the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association to kick off the campaign, Belén Garijo, Member of the Executive Board of Merck and CEO Merck Healthcare said: “Providing access to infertility care is important, but it is even more important to intervene to decrease stigmatization and social suffering arising from this condition.”
The University of Kenya’s Prof. Koigi Kamau, added: “Through the “More than a Mother” campaign, we will challenge the perception about infertile women, their roles and worth in society, both within and beyond the medical profession in order to achieve any systemic shift in the current culture of gender discrimination in the context of fertility care.”