As a westerner from the “land of opportunity,” I cannot begin to fathom the struggles faced by millions of men, women and children living in impoverished African nations. The efforts people of Africa must exert to obtain the most basic needs for survival make our “issues du jour” seem petty and selfish. On the African continent over 1 million people die every year of malaria, 1.6 million of HIV/AIDS, and unknown numbers killed by violence and war. It is estimated that 6 million people die of malnutrition each year. Around 50% of people have little to no access to clean water, leading to diseases like cholera. Measles takes the life of a child in sub-Saharan Africa each minute of every day.
With all these life-threatening, imaginable problems facing the people of Africa, it is quite surprising that a group of doctors and scientists are busy addressing an issue that is trivial compared to the real needs on the continent; infertility.
Many of us Gen X’s learned of the African plight from the pleading of Sally Struthers from the glow of our television screens, asking us to help feed the children, to give only pennies a day to provide a hungry and malnourished child a chance for survival. Images of children with distended bellies, covered in flies, clinging to their mothers for added strength were haunting and even at a young age helped put our charmed lives into perspective. Decades after those commercials first aired the people of Africa still struggle with the hardships of famine. It hardly seems appropriate to focus on something like infertility when people are still starving across the continent.
Proponents of bringing IVF and other fertility treatments to Africa claim that having children is a fundamental right that should be offered to every person. I could not disagree more with this statement. Food, clothing, shelter, water; these are fundamental rights. It is insulting to focus on something like infertility treatments when millions upon millions of people cannot even get their own basic needs met.
Infertility carries a tremendous social stigma with it in African societies and the pro-infertility treatment camp wants to combat the social stigma issue by helping women get pregnant. Women who are unable to conceive are thought to be witches, and become social outcasts. Unfortunately some women are killed or commit suicide because of their inability to have a child. While it is tragic that women who are unable to conceive in Africa are subject to such horrific treatment, isn’t it far more tragic that water-borne diseases claim a child every three seconds or rape is often used as a weapon of war?
There is no arguing that infertility rates are higher in Africa than the rest of the world and there are many reasons behind that; poor healthcare for women, lack of access to basic needs, exposure to illness, nutritional inadequacies. Only a small number of women will be able to afford the infertility treatments and an even smaller number will have success. Instead of focusing on the infertility problem in Africa, which only benefits those who suffer from infertility AND can afford the treatments AND have success with the treatments, it would be smarter and beneficial to focus on women’s health for all women. Treat the root of what causes African women to suffer from higher rates of infertility in the first place.
No one is looking at ways to shift the social stigma against the infertile. No one is working to give options to women other than childbearing. It is difficult to change social beliefs and perceptions, but if the childfree option is not possible, what if an effort was made to elevate the status of adoption? There is a huge number of orphans throughout the African continent looking for mothers, and apparently a large number of women looking to have children. Seems like a match made in heaven.