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First Ladies pledge to eliminate stigma associated with infertility and cancers

First Ladies in Africa have pledged their collective resolve to partner “Merck More Than A Woman” initiative to create greater awareness on infertility and cancers, which are perceived mostly to afflict women.

The First Ladies of Ghana, Senegal, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone and Zambia made the pledged at the opening ceremony of the fifth edition of the “Merck Africa Asia Luminary” conference, in Dakar, Senegal.

The two-day event coincided with the first Anniversary of Merck Foundation and the 350 year milestone of Merck Germany.

Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Ghana’s First Lady and her colleagues pledged to become Ambassadors of Infertility and partner with Merck Foundation to mainstream issues of childlessness in women, which leads to violence, discrimination, stigma and ostracism by society.

She assured that her office would partner the Ghana Fertility Society to demystify the name-calling associated with childlessness, when empirical research showed that over 50 percent of the difficulties to conceive was male-dominated.

She said “Stigma is painful and stressful. Stigma is unjust. No blame or shift blame to the men as stigma for men will be same also.”

The First Ladies pledged to maintain an aggressive media action towards changing the embedded socio-cultural attitudes that influenced finger-pointing at women, when fertility issues emerged.

First Lady, Mrs Mareame Sall of Senegal said there was a good relationship between health and quality of life and promised to thrive to achieve that for the people in Senegal.

Mrs Fatima Maada Bio, First Lady of Sierra Leone said there was the need to change the narrative and socio-cultural attitudes that confounded childlessness and called for an emergency programme to assist women especially in her country.

She made an appeal to Merck Foundation and global development partners to come to the aid of the country to construct a specialized cancer care unit for diagnosis and treatment as well as training of experts to save lives.

Dr Rasha Kelej, Chief Executive Officer of Merck Foundation and President of Merck More Than “A Mother” campaign, which seeks more partnerships with Africa and Asia towards eliminating the challenges in the health sector.

“Our aim is to contribute to improving access to quality and equitable healthcare solutions and capacity in the field of diabetes, oncology, hypertension and infertility.”

She said MF spent about five million Euros for the training of experts across Africa and Asia in its preferred area of fertility, oncology, diabetes and hypertension with about 500 beneficiaries of women groupings being gainers also.

She said MF is now focusing on implementing a project in partnership with First Ladies’ offices across Africa towards mainstreaming the Merck More Than A Mother initiative, Merck Oncology(Cancer) Access Programme and call for enrolment for diabetes experts, which has already attracted 45 countries and still counting .

She disclosed that 84 embryologists and fertility experts have completed training modules in a bid to overcome the challenges of infertility and associated stigma.

Dr Kelej said Merck Foundation would train more professionals to take up the tasks of assisting the masses especially women.

Professor Dr Frank Strangenberg, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Merck Foundation disclosed that the Foundation would scale-up its scholarship towards the training of the requisite professionals towards ameliorating the many health difficulties that confounded Africa and Asia, insisting that “We will take this gesture to the next level.”

He pledged the Foundation’s support to collaborate with strategic partners to open new affiliations with academia, Ministries of Health, policy-makers to improve disease management, access and bring quality healthcare closer to the people.

Prof Dr Strangenberg, who doubles as the Executive Board and Family Board of E. Merck KG said quality healthcare drives socio-economic development adding, “Everyone would be given the chance to live a healthy life irrespective of race, geo-location or status.”

Mr  Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, Prime Minister of Senegal, opening the conference said MF’s initiatives synchronises  with President Macky Sall’s passion of soliciting support from development partners and state institutions towards the elimination of chronic non-communicable diseases with no adequate access to care.

He noted that individual lifestyles, unguarded high-cholesterol diets and lack of exercises were compounding healthcare issues and especially in fertility, oncology, diabetes and hypertension.

He said “In order to avoid explosion, there is need to beef-up policy and seek the necessary support to eliminate these diseases,” as the economic impact and burden on society was outrageous.




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