Berna Amullen is a Ugandan woman who suffers from infertility as a result of untreated sexually transmitted disease. She was diagnosed too late to be given proper treatment and she lost the hope of being a mother and is leading a happy life. In her video, she shares her devastating story of mistreatment, discrimination and violence from her husband, family and community as a result of being infertile. Amullen speaks about her attempt to commit suicide and how she was saved at the last minute.
The state Minister of Health for General Duties, Hon. Sarah Opendi says that Amullen’s situation is a representation of several women suffering as a result of childlessness across the globe.
“In Africa including Uganda, infertile women still suffer discrimination, stigma and ostracism. More often an inability to have a child or to become pregnant results in the woman being greatly isolated, disinherited or assaulted. This sometimes also results in divorce or physical and psychological violence. I am glad to see an initiative that addresses this challenge in the public domain in Africa as it is something that no one talks about and is treated as secret. “Merck more than a mother” is therefore very important for Africa since it aims to define interventions to reduce the stigma and social suffering of infertile women across the continent,” says Opendi during the launch of Merck more than a mother campaign in Uganda Kampala on the 21st of Feb at The Rwenzori Ballroom,
Through “empowering Berna”, Merck in partnership with Ministry of Health inaugurates small businesses established this year to support infertile women across the country.
Belen Garijo, Member of the board and CEO of Merck, emphasizes: “I believe in women empowerment and especially childless women-they are mistreated and discriminated in many cultures for being unable to have children and start a family. Empowering them through access to information, health, and change of mind set to remove the stigma of infertility is needed. Through” Merck More than a Mother” we are supporting this strong message together with our partners and we will continue our commitment to improve access to regulated and effective fertility care in Africa.”
Opendi adds that infertility can be prevented, cured and treated if a woman discovers she has untreated sexually transmitted diseases and seeks early treatment. Infertility should not be treated as a woman’s problem because in most cases it’s the man with a problem. “We appeal to young girls to seek treatment early for sexual infections to avoid having problems of having children in future,” Opendi says. By June this year, the government will have completed the construction of the women’s hospital at Mulago as this will go a long way to help more women have infertility resolved. 70% of infertile cases due to untreated of sexually transmitted diseases and a total of 15% of women are infertile. 10-15% of couples fail to have children because IVF is costly.
Madame Brigitte Touadera, the First Lady of the Central African Republic says: “I am very happy to participate in this launch another milestone “Merck More than a Mother” in Uganda as it follows the one we had for my country last month and in Kenya too. As the champion for the initiative in my country and for Francophone Africa, I acknowledge the social suffering of infertile women go through and the role that Merck is playing to eliminate this suffering and stigmatization by raising awareness about infertility prevention, male infertility and the necessity of a team approach to family building among couples which is very critical for Africa.”
Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck healthcare explains: Empowering those women across Ugandan rural setting was very essential, those women suffered great deal of discrimination, violence and isolation. Moreover meeting community members and leaders there to emphasize the importance to change their perception of infertility and infertile women was specific.
According to World Health Organization, 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, 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 is very important,” Opendi adds.
“The businesses established by “Empowering Berna” projects are benefitting over 800 women in many districts in Ugandan who have come together in groups and have been trained and supported to put up bakery, catering and tent hire businesses and more. They are also able to earn an income to support themselves from their own new businesses-they are now ‘more than mothers,” Rasha notes. Over 1000 infertile women in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire who can no longer be treated have been empowered socially and economically to lead independent and happier lives through “Empowering Berna”. Merck More than a Mother campaign was first launched during the International day of women on 8th Feb 2016.
Hon. Betty Amongi, chairperson of Uganda Women Parliamentary Association emphasizes: “We will partner with Merck and health ministry 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.”
Several infertile women were mobilized to share their stories and the transformation they have made after Merck established for them small