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African First Ladies Pledge Support for Campaign Against Infertility Stigma

By Eric Ojo, Abuja

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – African First Ladies have pledged to support the on-going campaign aimed at eliminating stigma and discrimination against cases of childless and infertile women in Africa.

The continent’s First Ladies have unanimously agreed to become the Ambassadors of the “Merck More Than A Mother campaign” with a view to eliminating stigma around infertility in their respective countries.

The campaign is an initiative of the Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck Germany, which seeks to address stigmatization arising from infertility and other related issues.

In many cultures, childless women suffer discrimination, stigma, and ostracism. Their inability to have children results in great isolation, disinheritance, and assaults.  The campaign empowers such women through the access to information, health, change of mindsets and economic empowerment.

Currently, Merck Foundation has so far provided for more than 84 candidates, between three months and six months clinical and practical training for fertility specialists and embryologists in more than 29 countries across Africa and Asia.

In addition, as part of this Campaign, the Foundation started “Empowering Berna” project in Africa to help childless and infertile women starting their own business and thus achieve financial independence and become stronger and happier. The project has benefited more than 1,000 women across the continent.

The First Ladies took the pledge during the opening ceremony of the 5th Edition of the Merck Africa Asia Luminary which presided over by the President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall and in partnership with the Ministry of Health of Senegal in Dakar.

The First Ladies also discussed the strategy to build healthcare capacity in the fields of cancer, infertility, diabetes and hypertension in their respective countries in partnership with Merck Foundation.

The pledge was taken by Marieme Faye Sall, the First Lady of Senegal; Neo Jane Masisi,  the First Lady of Botswana; Denise Nkurunziza, the First Lady of the Republic of Burundi and Briggitte Touadera,  the First Lady of Central Africa Republic.

Others include, Hinda Deby Itno, the First Lady of Chad; Rebecca Naa Okaikor Akufo-Addo, the First Lady of Ghana; Aissata Issoufou Mahamadou, the First Lady of Niger; Fatima Maada Bio, the First Lady of Sierra Leone and Esther Lungu, the First Lady of Zambia.

Speaking at the occasion, the First Lady of Botswana, Neo Jane Masisi, expressed her full support of the campaign, adding that it is very critical for her country and for Africa at large.

“I am fully supporting this initiative as the First Lady of Botswana. I firmly believe in the importance to empower infertile women, who are mistreated and discriminated against in many cultures for not being able to have children and start a family”, she added.

Also in her speech, the First Lady of the Republic of Burundi, Denise Nkurunziza, thanked Merck Foundation for the unique campaign, adding that it is the first time for the continent to have an initiative that empowers infertile women and takes care of them.

In her remarks, the First Lady of Central Africa Republic, Brigitte Touadera, said she happily accepted to be the ambassador of Merck More than a Mother in 2016. “This is a historic campaign that I launched with them in my country”, she further stated.

While endorsing the campaign, the First Lady of Ghana, Rebecca Naa Okaikor Akufo-Addo, assured that she along with Rebecca Foundation will work closely with Merck Foundation to empower women and adolescents in her country.

“We will tell women to value themselves, as they are more than just mothers, they are productive members of the society”, she stressed.

Speaking in a similar vein, the First Lady of Chad,  Hinda Deby Itno,  declared that:  “Through this platform, together with all other ambassadors we can create a culture shift across Africa to empower childless women by creating awareness and a cultural shift”.

Corroborating this assertion, the First Lady of Zambia, Esther Lungu said, there is a serious need for a cultural shift about infertility and its prevention. “We will make this happen. Zambia will launch Merck More than a Mother campaign in the country and I am happy to be their Ambassador”, she added.

Also in her remarks, the First Lady of Niger, Aissata Issoufou Mahamadou, said she has also accepted to be “Merck more than a mother” ambassador in Niger to help raising awareness about infertility prevention, management, male infertility and to break the stigma around infertile women to empower them, as they are not just child bearers.

On her part, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Fatima Maada Bio, said she has heard and witnessed the stories of infertile women in her country, adding that  the attitude of the people towards such women is not progressive or informed.

“I am honored to be the Ambassador of Merck More than a Mother, through this campaign I intend to help the women of my country”, she assured.

Also, speaking at the occasion, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Merck Foundation, Dr. Rasha Kelej, expressed appreciation for the support of the campaign by the First Ladies.

“I am very proud that many First Ladies have partnered with Merck Foundation and accepted to be the Ambassadors of our unique and historic campaign to empower infertile women and eliminate the stigma around infertility in their countries”, the CEO said.

“Merck more than a Mother” was launched in 2015 with a mandate to drive many of the foundation’s initiatives and programmes aimed at building health care and research capacity as well as improving access to equitable healthcare solutions.

The Merck Foundation which was established in 2017, aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people and advance their lives through science and technology./



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