‘Merck More than a Mother’ from Africa to Asia for the first time, in partnership with ASPIRE
Merck, a leading science and technology company through its ‘Merck More than a Mother’ initiative in partnership with Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproduction (ASPIRE), conducted a panel to address challenges and solutions to improve access to regulated fertility care in Africa and Asia. The high level panel discussion of policy makers and international fertility experts held during the 7th annual Congress of ASPIRE in Malaysia also focused on exploring opportunities to collaborate with Asian Fertility Societies in order to build cost effective and safe fertility care capacity in Africa and developing countries.
After the success of the collaboration between ‘Merck More than a Mother’ and Indian and Indonesian fertility experts to provide practical embryology training, Merck will connect Africa with Asia to provide more opportunities for building capacity and interventions to empower infertile women and couples.
“Through ‘Merck More than a Mother’ we empower an under-privileged segment of women. Women who couldn’t bear children and for this they are discriminated and mistreated by their husbands, families and communities. In some cultures, childless women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. This is unacceptable and has to change through our campaign,” emphasized Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.
Watch below the stories of women who have suffered as a result of the infertility stigma:
The story of Grace Kambini, Kenya.
The story of Berna Amullen, Uganda.
The story of Aisha Tasila, Sierra Leone.
“When I created ‘Merck More than a Mother’ I knew important women around the world would rally to the cause but I was surprised at their enthusiasm and the speed at which they did so. First ladies; ministers of health; ministers of gender; parliament members; fertility experts; presidents of fertility societies; CEOs of successful businesses; women and men are strongly supporting this campaign every day,” Rasha Kelej added.
The high level panel discussion included: Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess Azizah of Pahang, Founder and Life President, Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation, Malaysia; Hon. Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda; Hon. Zuliatu Cooper, Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone; Hon. Betty Amongi, Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Uganda; Hon. Julieta Kavetuna, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Namibia; Hon. Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Kenya; Dr. Ivan Sini, Chairman, Indonesian Reproductive Sciences Institute; Dr. Kamini Rao, Chairperson of International Institute for Training and Research in Reproductive Health; Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, President of Africa Fertility Society, Nigeria; Dr. Jaideep Malhotra, immediate Past President, ASPIRE India; Prof. Joe Simpson, Immediate Past President, International Federation of Fertility Societies; and Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.
Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess Azizah of Pahang, Founder and Life President, Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation, Malaysia, emphasized at the high level panel that she strongly supports ‘Merck More than a Mother’ campaign to support all infertile women, not only in Africa but all over the world. “Infertility is a global issue, all childless women face different kinds of social suffering and mistreatment everywhere in the world,” she said.
Minister of State for Health of Uganda, Hon. Sarah Opendi emphasized: “In Uganda, between 15-20% of couples fail to conceive. Fertility clinics in the country to address this problem are few and expensive. Together with ‘Merck More than a Mother’ and as ‘Merck More than a Mother’ Ambassador; we are together with Merck creating awareness that infertility can be prevented and that to improve access, fertility care can be integrated into the existing public reproductive healthcare services which will be cost effective as the infrastructure is already there. In addition we are building a hospital for Women Health where an IVF center will be established to provide couples with affordable and effective treatment with the support of the Merck Embryologist Training Program”.
Sierra Leone’s Minister State of Health and Sanitation Hon. Zuliatu Cooper explained: “In Sierra Leone, infertile couples are suffering every day because we do not have facilities to diagnose or treat them. Through ‘Merck More than a Mother’ that is championed by H. E. First Lady of Sierra Leone, Merck in partnership with Ministry of Health will support fertility care training, where we are making history in the country as we are going to establish our platform of fertility experts so that childless couples can be treated in their home country for the first time.”
“This a historic achievement for Africa, as ‘Merck More than a Mother’ will do the same in Liberia where currently there are no fertility care facilities and infertile couples have to get treatment abroad too,” Zuliatu Cooper added.
Dr. Ivans Sini, Chairman, Indonesian Reproductive Science Institute (IRSI) stated: “We are very happy to partner with Merck to provide this practical high technology training for the first time to establish African embryologists platform to be able together to improve access to safe and cost effective fertility care in Africa, it is a great initiative and we are very proud to be part of it.”
About ‘Merck More than a Mother’
‘Merck More than a Mother’ is championed by the First Ladies of Central African Republic and Sierra Leone, Madam Brigitte Touadera and Madam Sia Koroma respectively. It was first implemented in Kenya in 2015 followed by Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Central African Republic in 2016 and in Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2017.
Watch below the videos of the first ladies of Central African Republic and Sierra Leone on why they support ‘Merck More than a Mother’:
- H.E. First Lady of Central African Republic - Madame Brigitte Touadera.
- H.E. First Lady of Sierra Leone - Madam Sia Koroma.
Through ‘Empowering Berna’, ‘Merck More than a Mother’ supports infertile women who can no longer be treated by empowering them socially and economically to lead independent and happier lives.
Over 1,000 infertile women in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire who can no longer be treated have been empowered through the ‘Empowering Berna’ project.
‘Merck More than a Mother’ also provides training programmes for embryologists in Africa to improve access to cost effective fertility care. In addition, it supports governments to define policies to regulate ART, address the need for interventions to break the stigma around infertile women and raise awareness about infertility prevention and male infertility and the necessity for a team approach to family building among couples.
The training of African embryologists has already started in Indonesia and India and is benefitting eight participants from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Ghana. ‘Merck More than a Mother’ will also support fertility training for healthcare providers in Sierra Leone and Liberia to establish a fertility experts’ platform that will enable childless couples to be treated in their home countries for the first time.
Watch the videos here of the ‘Merck Africa Embryology Training Program’ in India and Indonesia as trainees from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria share their experience.