First lady tackles fertility issues
DIGNITARIES: Botswana's First Lady, Neo Masisi, and Merck Foundation CEO, Dr Rasha Kelej

First Lady Neo Masisi has noted that over the years a large number of In Vitro Fertilization (IVFs) are done in the neighbouring South Africa because of lack of facilities in Botswana.

The process, which involves fertilization by extracting and egg from a woman and retrieving a sperm from a man and manually combining them before planting them in the uterus, was also very expensive and out of reach of an average Motswana woman, Masisi noted.

The first lady made the remarks at the 5th edition of Merck Africa Asia Luminary in Dakar Senegal last week.

The event focused on building fertility care capacity and breaking the infertility stigma in Africa and Asia.

The first lady was part of a delegation of 14 first ladies from 14 countries that gathered in Dakar to work on a strategy to build healthcare capacity.

The strategy will also provide the necessary training to establish strong platforms of experts in diabetes, hypertension, oncology, cancer and fertility care in their countries in collaborations with ministries of health.

The first ladies are also ambassadors of Merck More Than a Mother Campaign to break the stigma of infertility and improve access to fertility care.

Masisi also called on society to encourage men to openly discuss infertility issues bearing in mind that it is a shared responsibility between men and women.

She said clinicians should be urged to find sustainable and affordable solutions to infertility. She further encouraged women to involve men in discussions of infertility issues from an early age.

“In Botswana although there is no official recorded statistics fertility practitioners are estimated to be around 15%. It is a serious concern because studies addressing infertility have been limited in my country. There is a lot of pressure for single women to bear children and married women are often blamed and accused of failing to conceive. A large number of women still view the completeness of woman as being substantiated by being a mother, which should not be the case. Educating couples affected by infertility is important as some do not know that diet and lack of exercise can be a contributing,” said Masisi

Merck Foundation Chief Executive Officer Dr Rasha Kelej said the meeting was a great opportunity for first ladies and ministers to network, learn from each other and improve health care capacity building.

Merck, Kelej noted has so far trained 84 embryologists and fertility experts from 30 countries to take care of infertile couples and improve access to treatment.

“We have different programmes to empower infertile people. Merck in partnership with universities like South West University in UK, University of Cairo and Nairobi are training diabetelogists from 45 countries across Africa and Asia,” she said

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