When most people think of the problems endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa, infertility does not come to mind. Poverty, disease, war, and drugs, yes. But not infertility. If anything, most people outside of the region probably visualize the starving children we see on television and think, they’ve got too many mouths to feed. And for many families, infertility is the least of their concerns. But a surprising number of African families are suffering from infertility, in some regions as many as 32 percent of the population, both men and women. And regardless of the other social problems the countries face, the inability of that many people to successfully reproduce is definitely an issue.
Infertility disrupts lives
According to a London study on infertility in Nigeria, infertility can have a disruptive effect on many aspects of people’s lives. Women, especially, can face many obstacles due to infertility, because a woman’s value in much of Africa is tied to motherhood. An infertile woman faces extra hardships in patrilineal communities where women hold little power or influence of their own.
Both women and men who are unable to reproduce may have a difficult time providing for themselves as they get older, with no children to help out and few social services to act as safety nets. Even death itself can be complicated, as in many communities it is the sole responsibility of one’s offspring to make sure the deceased is properly buried.
The stigma of infertility
There is a certain stigma associated with infertility in every culture. The ability to reproduce is the norm, and the inability to bear children is often seen as a shortcoming. Living in the United States, where infertility is no longer a taboo subject in most circles, I still personally encountered many people during the years I spent trying to conceive who said things like, “Maybe God just has a reason,” or “Some people just aren’t meant to have children.”
As much as the stigma of infertility hurts in Western society, I cannot imagine living in a culture where a woman who was unable to bear children might be ostracized, isolated and labeled a witch because people feared she was cursed. But that is the reality for many infertile women in Africa.
Women in the Nigerian study were much more likely than men to face both verbal and physical abuse because of infertility. This abuse often came from the women in their husband’s family, who blamed the woman rather than the man for their failure to reproduce. Often, the abuse would ultimately lead to divorce.
No diagnostic tests, no treatments
One of the most difficult aspects of an infertile couple’s life in Sub-Saharan Africa is that for most people, there is no access to diagnostic tests or treatments which could help a couple to conceive. Of course, funding fertility treatments and testing in countries where much of the population is struggling just to survive is a low priority.
But infertility hurts, no matter where you live. We are all human beings, and humans, as a species, have a biological need and desire to reproduce. The infertile women of Africa have the same dreams of sweet babies and the same aching, empty arms as the women of the western world. Perhaps in time, as their countries develop and their economies grow, the infertile women and men of Africa will realize a new hope.
More by Tavia:
Best Alternative Treatments for PCOS-Related Infertility
PCOS, Infertility and Me
Singleton Pregnancy May Reduce Risk of Autism in IVF Babies