From Kenya to Uganda: "Merck More than a Mother" campaign marks International Women's Day

Watch the video of the launch event and panel discussion: discussing different interventions to destigmatize infertile women and improve access to regulated fertility care in Africa during the launch event in Kampala, Uganda

As the world marks the International Women’s Day this week, Merck launched its “More than a Mother” Campaign for the first time in Uganda to empower infertile women through improving access to information and healthcare and change of mind set.

Merck announced its African Embryologists Training Program with the aim to improve access to quality and safe fertility care across the continent.

“Merck more than a Mother” campaign, a pan-African initiative aims to build fertility capacity, raise awareness about prevention of infertility and male infertility. It also opens a dialogue to define interventions to reduce the stigma and social suffering of infertile women in Africa which includes discrimination and physical and psychological violence.

The campaign was first implemented in Kenya in 2015 and is being rolled out this year in Uganda, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Uganda Women Parliamentary association (UWOPA) and Africa Fertility Society (AFS) and progressively rolled-out in more African countries.

Improving access to fertility care for women and couples in Africa



“Countless women in Africa face fear, abuse and discrimination every day simply because they are infertile,” said Belén Garijo, Member of the Executive Board of Merck and CEO Healthcare. “After Kenya, we are proud to launch the “More than a Mother” campaign in Uganda and work with the Ministry of Health, the medical community and parliamentarians to change perceptions and reduce the harsh social suffering of infertile women in Africa.”

Watch Belen Garijo, CEO Merck Healthcare as she shares her views and insights about the stigma of infertility and the accessibility to fertility care in Africa

Minister of State for Health for Uganda, Hon. Sarah Opendi emphasized during her speech: “We are happy to partner with reputable and innovative companies such as Merck. We believe that “Merck More than a Mother” campaign addresses a very sensitive topic for the first time in Africa, we all know it is there but no one wants to talk about it. This initiative will help to empower infertile women by improving access to information and change in the culture and mind set.”

“Most Sub-Saharan African countries don’t have trained embryologists hence providing training to our embryologists will contribute significantly to improve the quality and accessibility to fertility care to couples in Uganda and Africa so that they can start their families,” she added.

Watch Hon. Minister Sarah Opendi’s endorsement of the campaign

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lower levels of development are thought to be associated with higher levels of non-genetic and preventable causes of infertility such as poor nutrition, untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unsafe abortion, consequence of infections caused by the practice of female genital mutilation, exposure to smoking and to leaded petrol and other environmental pollutants. Hence prevention awareness is very important.

“In some cultures, childless women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. As such, a central difficulty associated with infertility is that it can transform from an acute, private distress into a harsh public stigma with complex and devastating consequences. An inability to have a child or to become pregnant can result in being greatly isolated, disinherited or assaulted. This may result in divorce or physical and psychological violence. Therefore this campaign is very important for Africa,” said Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.

“Merck More than a Mother” campaign will provide training for African embryologists in Indonesia starting with candidates from Uganda and Kenya and will scale up to the rest of the continent. It will also provide education for healthcare providers which will improve basic fertility management and improve awareness about prevention and male infertility which is needed in Africa as can be seen below in the videos of Berna and the Ugandan couple,” Rasha Kelej added.

Merck has joined hands with Indonesian fertility experts to provide advanced embryology training for African candidates starting with Kenya and Uganda and expanding to the rest of Africa.

Dr Ivans Sini, President of Indonesian Reproductive Science Institute (IRSI) emphasized: “We are very happy to partner with Merck to provide this high technology training to develop African embryologists to be able together to improve access to quality and safe fertility care in Africa, it is a great idea and we are very proud to be part of it. We are very excited to meet them next month.”

Watch Berna Amullen from Uganda who is married and childless, sharing her story of stigma and social suffering for being infertile

Watch Byansi Ssemugga and Sawuya Ntongo, a couple from Uganda as they share their testimony on how they dealt with infertility and got a child

Hon. Betty Amongi, Chairperson of Uganda Women Parliamentary Association emphasized: “We will partner with Merck and Ministry of Health to define policies to improve access to safe and effective fertility care, address the need for interventions to reduce stigmatization and social suffering of infertile women and raise awareness about male infertility and the necessity for a team approach to family building among couples”.

Watch Hon Betty Amongi as she pledges the support of the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association in defining policies to improve access to safe and effective fertility care in Uganda

Join the campaign that will challenge social and cultural perception of infertile women in Africa.

"Together we can create a culture shift”, the “Merck More than a Mother” social media campaign will challenge the social and cultural perception of infertile women in Africa. Moreover it will raise awareness about male infertility, prevention of infertility and infertility management at large.

Dr. James Olobo-Lalobo, Vice-President of Africa Fertility Society stressed: “We are very happy to partner with Merck, through this historic campaign, “Merck More than a Mother” where specialized practical training for our embryologists will be provided and awareness about prevention of infertility and male infertility will be raised across the continent for the first time in history. Together with Merck, we can challenge the perception about infertile women, their roles and worth in society, both within and beyond the medical profession in order to achieve any systemic shift in the current culture of gender discrimination in the context of fertility care”.

Watch Dr James Olobo-Lalobo during the campaign launch in Uganda

Watch an interview on Uganda’s most popular TV show on NTV as Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare and Dr James Olobo-Lalobo, Vice President of Africa Fertility Society speak on “Merck More than a Mother” interventions

Through this campaign Merck, a pioneer in reproductive health, will address together with local stakeholders, the key challenges that are associated with resource-constrained settings such as prevention of infertility, education and self-development, regulation of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF), geographic barriers, reproductive rights and over-population and limited resources arguments.

Dr. Oladapo Adenrele Ashiru, President of Africa Fertility Society explained: “In Nigeria where I practice, infertility is caused by infections in over 85% of women, like in the rest of Africa, compared to 33% worldwide which emphasizes the importance of prevention programs in Africa. Therefore, our partnership with Merck is very essential to address this sensitive topic for the first time in the continent”. “We are going to host this important campaign in Nigeria and many other African countries this year,” he added.

Watch Dr. Oladapo Adenrele Ashiru, President of Africa Fertility Society as he makes a presentation at the launch of the campaign in Uganda

Sarah Opendi appointed Ambassador of "Merck More than a Mother" for Uganda

During the event, Merck announced the appointment of Hon. Sarah Opendi, Uganda’s Minister of State for Health, to be the ambassador of “Merck More Than a Mother” campaign in Uganda in recognition for her support and efforts to reduce the stigma of infertility and raise awareness about the condition in the country.

Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare presents a certificate appointing Sarah Opendi as the “Merck More than a Mother” campaign ambassador for Uganda as other guests look on

At the launch event, Merck awarded Berna Amullen, a Ugandan woman, who openly shared her story of stigmatization and suffering for being infertile. The award was in recognition of her courage in creating awareness and sharing her devastating experience so that no other woman would suffer the same.

Berna Amullen (second left) accompanied by Nurse Hellen Namaganda being awarded for her courage in sharing her experience with infertility by Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare and Sarah Opendi, Uganda’s Minister for Health

Watch the launch of the “Merck More than a Mother” campaign in Uganda that was carried on the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation

Hon. Joyce Lay, a Member of Parliament and ambassador of the campaign in Kenya, has joined hands with Uganda Ministry of Health and Uganda Women Parliamentary Association to raise awareness about prevention of infertility and male infertility. Lay emphasized: “In order to improve access to safe and effective fertility care, a discussion with the relevant authorities will be needed to discuss the strengthening of infertility services, education, auditing, regulation, community awareness and the need to integrate them in programs which already exist in the local health infrastructure.”

Watch Hon Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament and Ambassador of the campaign in Kenya as she shares the Kenyan experience with the IVF bill

Join the campaign to reduce stigma of infertility

While celebrating the success story of the Ugandan couple and acknowledging the support of the husband Byansi Adrian for his wife Sawuya Ntongo, Rasha Kelej urged the Ugandan stakeholders to join the social media campaign in order to reduce the stigma of infertility, create awareness and define interventions to improve access to better fertility care in Africa.

Facebook page Merck Africa Research Summit

Twitter handle: @Merck_MARS

YouTube Channel Merck Africa Research Summit

For more information on the Merck More than a Mother initiative please visit
www.merckmorethanamother.com