George Kebaso and Sarah Kamau
An estimated 4.2 million Kenyans require intervention to either successfully impregnate or conceive.
New data shows that one in every 10 couples is seeking fertility interventions.
Infertility is defined as the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
Among men, the causes include untreated Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), drug abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and exposure to industrial and environmental toxins.
In women, infertility can be caused by irregular menstrual cycles, unsafe abortions and late child bearing.
Speaking at a Merck Health Media training workshop in Nairobi yesterday, experts said half of the couples with complications are regularly seeking costly specialised treatment to correct the condition.
Affected couples frequent a few specialised centres largely in Nairobi for fertility drugs, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In-vitro-Fertilization (IVF).
“There are only nine available specialist centres in the country largely in Nairobi with only one based in Mombasa. Sadly, the centres do not even run on a daily basis despite the challenges facing infertility patients. This makes them run just 1,000 IVF cycles per year,” said Dr Pauline Kibui, an associate research scientist in embryology at the Institute of Primate Research.
Dr Wanjiru Ndegwa, a gynaecologist and IVF specialist in Nairobi said Kenya has an acute shortage of embryologists, most of whom are in private practice.
Prof Koigi Kamau, the chairman of the Kenya Fertility Society said many men with a background of untreated STIs but do not bother to go for check up and treatment end up compromising their fertility, more so when they infect their partners.
“Infections cause 85 per cent of infertility in sub Saharan Africa compared to 33 per cent in the Global North. In Kenya this is even more complicated with the few available embryologists (infertility experts),” he said.
“It used to be thought that infertility was primarily a woman’s problem, but that is not the case. Men and women are affected almost equally, with 30 per cent of cases due to male factors, 30 per cent due to female factors while the other 40 per cent are often due to a mixture of problems, or what is referred to as “unexplained,”.
But he added that the trend today is putting more focus on women and urged the government to subsidise cost of IVF to make it affordable to poor couples.
IVF treatment costs not less than Sh500,000 per cycle.
Linda Hiaduwa from Namibia urged the media to create more awareness on infertility and called for more screening centres and clear policies on fertility.
“Educate people about this problem because you have power to reach out to them. Together we can make it,” said Linda who suffers from infertility.
Merck Foundation Chief executive officer Dr Rasha Kelej called for a shift in mindset around infertility.
She said his foundation is focusing on the training and awareness on infertility and the stigma associated with it.
Kelej said in many cultures, childless women suffer discrimination and stigma and their inability to have children if often used as a reason to isolate, disinherit and even assault them.
She said age plays a key role because the number of available eggs drops dramatically as a woman ages, as does the chromosomal normality of each egg while men are constantly making fresh sperms every 90 days meaning that the cells remain young and healthy even as the man ages.
With regard to male infertility, among the common reasons is how the testicles create and dispense sperm, hormone imbalances, or blockages in the reproductive organs.