President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has called for the elimination of stigma associated with infertility in Africa.
He said from being abandoned, depressed, humiliated, insulted and maltreated, women suffered the most when it came to issues of infertility.
Quoting a World Health Organisation (WHO) source, the President added that “even though infertility in men is the cause of 50 per cent of cases of a couple’s inability to conceive, the economic, psychological, social and cultural burdens fall disproportionately on women”.
President Akufo-Addo made the call at the 6th Merck Africa Asia Luminary and the Second Merck Foundation annual conference in Accra yesterday, on the theme: “Together for a better future”.
Ten African First Ladies are attending the two-day conference, which also attracted about 1,000 participants, including policy makers, academics, researchers and healthcare experts from 58 countries around the world.
Merck Foundation is the philanthropic wing of Merck KGaA Germany, whose work includes the improvement of the health and wellbeing of people through science and technology.
According to the WHO, 186 million people around the world experienced either primary or secondary infertility, with Africa being the continent with the highest birth rate, while some countries in Central and Eastern Africa were also described as “the infertility belt of the world”.
It said in Ethiopia, 85 per cent of childless marriages ended up in divorce within a period of five years, while in Tanzania “a childless widow may not inherit her husband’s wealth”.
And in Ghana, the President said, an infertile woman was treated as an outcast, often leading to the end of the marriage.
According to President Akufo-Addo, factors that led to infertility, whether anatomical or genetic, were not those that women wished for themselves, saying there might be other factors such as infection in the reproductive system and poor health practices, which, he said, were preventable.
The President further called for the incorporation of issues regarding infertility, prevention and its treatment into the maternal and reproductive healthcare policies of African countries.
He also stressed the need to train more gynaecologists and embryologists and to also make available and affordable, assisted reproductive technology, commonly referred to as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), to women facing infertility issues on the continent.
The President said in working to confront issues of infertility in Ghana, the country was also raising awareness of disease prevention and improvement of access to quality and equitable health services.
“We are focusing on the prevention and treatment of non-communicable and communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, sickle cell, asthma and cancer, which are estimated to account for more deaths than those occasioned by communicable diseases,” he added.
President Akufo-Addo said Ghana was also working with Novartis Foundation, a drug manufacturing company, to pilot the use of information and communications technology (ICT) innovation in the management of hypertension.
He said through the use of ICT, patients now received SMS messages on the treatment of their ailments on their mobile phones.
President Akufo-Addo commended his wife, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, for the work she was doing in the fields of culture, education and healthcare delivery in the country.
Mrs Akufo-Addo, who is co-chairing the conference, said for the past five years, Merck Luminary had provided a platform for scientific discussions, which, she said, had contributed to raising awareness of diabetes, fertility, cancer and other diseases.
She said blaming, mocking and shunning of perceived infertile couples must cease, adding that it was the responsibility of everyone to empower infertile couples.
“Fight against stigmatisation, change mindset, influence national policies on fertility and build fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries,” Mrs Akufo-Addo said.
The Chairperson of Merck Foundation and Chief Executive Officer of Merck Africa Asia Luminary, Dr Rasha Kelej, said the organisation had been providing specialist training for cancer treatment specialists in countries which did not have personnel with such skills.
She said the organisation had so far trained more than 70 cancer specialists,140 fertility specialists and over 100 diabetes specialists in Africa and Asia.