By Dipo Olowookere
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.
“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; Sarah Opendi, Minister of State of Health, Uganda; Zuliatu Cooper, Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone; Betty Amongi, Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Uganda; Julieta Kavetuna, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Namibia; 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, 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 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.”
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