According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data, more than 180 million couples in developing countries (which is one in every four couples) suffer from primary or secondary infertility; the inability to get pregnant after 12 months of unprotected sex.
The WHO data indicates that infertility is one of the conditions affecting reproductive age group between 20 to 45 years, however, it is not given the needed attention it deserves because of the high fertility rate mostly associated with Africans.
Pauline Wanjiku Kibui, a Kenya embryologist, says research has shown that infertility in Africa is caused by infections in over 85 per cent of women compared to 33 per cent worldwide.
She says untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like chlamydia and gonorrhoea, acquired from unsafe sex and complications from unsafe abortions and some lifestyles contributed to – some extent- infertility in women.
“Cancer or HIV patients may also find it difficult to conceive, for instance, besides the negative impact that HIV has on your body’s immunity, it can also affect your body’s ability to produce hormones required to fall pregnant, or lead to early menopause- the stage when monthly periods stop and you cannot fall pregnant,” she explains.
She adds that a central difficulty associated with infertility is that it can transform from an acute, private distress into harsh, public stigma with complex and devastating consequences.
The Status On Men
Professor Koigi Kamau, chairman of the Kenya Fertility Society, says although male factors contribute to about half of all cases of infertility, women are overwhelmingly perceived as being the party responsible for a couple’s infertility, thus, disproportionally having an effect on them.
Explaining further, Prof Kamanu indicates that due to the cultural background that man cannot be infertile, women are often blamed for a couple’s inability to conceive.
“But, as men are core to reproduction they are also the core to infertility problem,” he states. Adding that the burden assumed to fault the woman should be a thing of the past.
Prof Kamau points out that although most cases of infertility in men are not preventable, the combination of keeping healthy and avoiding environmental toxins may help.
“Avoiding drugs and smoking, exposure to high temperatures and industrial environmental toxins, as well as eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight helps improve fertility in men,” he indicates.
The United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that access to adequate comprehensive reproductive health services, including infertility care, is a basic human right regardless of the economic circumstances in which individuals are born into.
A declaration, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Merck Foundation, Dr Rasha Kelej, has been working for in the past year through the flagship initiative, ‘Merck More Than a Mother’.
‘Merck More Than A Mother’ initiative aims to empower infertile women through access to information, education, health and change of mindset.
It, thus, defines interventions to break the stigma around infertile women and raises awareness about infertility prevention and management.
In partnership with academia, ministries of health and international fertility societies, the initiative also provides medical education and training for healthcare providers and embryologists to build and advance fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries.
Dr Kelej is of the strong belief that no woman should suffer the stigma because of infertility.
She says now is the time for a change in mindset about infertility, which research has shown affects a high number of people in silence.
“We at Merck want to lead the change in the narrative about infertility and lead the discussion that would bring about prevention, no stigma and better treatment options for couples. From today, let’s talk about infertility until it becomes a normal thing to talk about,” she adds.
Dr Wanjiru Ndengwa, a gynaecologist and IVF specialist in Kenya, says there are various treatment options for infertility, including simple lifestyle changes like losing weight.
She says other treatment options include intrauterine insemination, ovulation-inducing and in-vitro fertilization.