Demystifying infertility


By Memory Kutengule:

MAGWIRA—I am ridiculed

The dream for a happy married life that Mary Magwira longed for remains far-fetched to her because she cannot conceive.

In fact, Magwira endured two decades of childlessness in wedlock. Her own people subjected her to untold ridicule.


Every time she tells her story, Magwira, 55, of Khaiya Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Changata in Thyolo, emotionally sheds tears.

“My house is near a premature babies’ graveyard. Since I do not have children, every time women come to this place, I am ridiculed and barred from attending the burial ceremony,” Magwira laments.

To this effect, she says, she no longer enjoys life.


“When I married my husband Emmanuel Magwira in 1998, we planned to have four children. Unfortunately, this did not go as planned. I ended up without a child after being married for years,” she says.

Magwira links her infertility to abnormal menstruation which ceased for good at the age of 32.

“I think there must be several problems leading to inability to conceive. I personally believe the ceasing of menstruation is one of them and it is the reason I failed to conceive after trying for years,” she says.

Magwira leads a lonely and stressful life such that she fails to access medical help at the nearest Changata Health Centre for fear of being scoffed at by other community members.

Currently, Magwira says, she cannot associate with others in her village or attend social gatherings, including funerals.

She wishes there could be an easy solution to infertility to rescue couples from the affliction of stigma and discrimination which those affected are subjected to.

“I appreciate that I am too old to conceive now. But it is my prayer that those younger than me will have their conditions repaired and give birth just like any other woman,” she says.

Christopher Matchado and his wife Lucy from T/A Kapeni in Blantyre share similar sentiments.

Matchado says for the eight years that they have been married, a lot has been said about their childless marriage.

However, he says, they are happy for the strong bond that exists between them.

“I am a teacher at a primary school in Dedza and it has always been hard for me to work in an environment where all my colleagues have children.

“Sometimes when I try to reprimand naughty learners, I end up being scorned by colleagues and the children’s parents,” Matchado explains.

Matchado and Magwira’s situations exemplify the stigma and discrimination that many other people endure due to their sterile conditions.

Infertility is a condition of the reproductive system characterised by failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex.


World Health Organisation (WHO) says infertility is a public health condition that affects both men and women.

Among others, infertility is caused by age, low sperm count in men, fibroids of the womb, extreme weight gain or loss, excessive alcohol consumption and physical or emotional stress that results in amenorrhea (absence of periods).

A 2010 study report by WHO estimated that 48.5 million couples worldwide were unable to have a child.

The report indicated that 1.9 percent of women aged between 20 and 44, who wanted a child, were unable to have their first live birth, a condition described as primary infertility.

Again, 10.5 percent of women who had previously given birth were unable to have another baby after five years of trying (secondary infertility).

In Malawi, although the true prevalence of infertility is not clear, a recent clinical study done at Kamuzu Central Hospital’s Gynaecology Out-patient Department, estimates infertility at 6.3 percent.

Ministry of Health and Population spokesperson Joshua Malango says out of the estimated percentage, primary and secondary infertility is pegged at 11.9 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

“In Malawi, infertility and stigma associated with it exist. However, stigma usually prevents some cases from being identified,” Malango says.

“Suffice to say that infertility does not only have effects on the couple failing to have a child; studies have also shown that it can lead to mental illness, abuse and stigma towards women,” he adds.

Moved by the situation, Merck Foundation in collaboration with the Beautify Malawi (Beam) Trust, led by First Lady Gertrude Mutharika, in July this year launched an infertility awareness programme to break stigma.

Besides, Merck Foundation plans to train Malawian doctors in the management of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and fertility care to improve access to equitable and quality healthcare.

Special Advisor to Mutharika on Health and Planning under Beam Trust, Emma Mabvumbe, says 85 percent of infertility cases are reversible.

She says the cases are reversible because most of them happen due to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), low sperm count and abortions, conditions which can easily be treated.

“Quite often, infertility is repairable only if the person affected accesses medical attention in time,” Mabvumbe says.

She urges those affected by the condition to go to any clinic for treatment.

“Even if a couple may not have kids after seeking medical help, it is not the end of life. Remember, women are more than mothers and they deserve respect at all times,” she says.

Mabvumbe, therefore, urges communities to desist from ridiculing men and women who have the condition so that they can freely participate in development activities in their respective areas.

“It is sad that those affected are ridiculed by communities and have no chance to participate in development activities. This is bad. Let us stop the stigma and discrimination against people associated with infertility,” she says.

So far, Beam Trust has reached out to communities in Mulanje, Thyolo and Blantyre with infertility messages and plans to extend to other districts across the country.

Senior Chief Chikumbu of Mulanje, hails Beam Trust for raising awareness about the condition in the area.

“The problem of infertility is huge in my area. This awareness message is relevant and gives hope to my subjects and I urge those with the condition to visit the hospital for medical attention,” she says.

The local ruler also appeals to married couples not to file for divorce on the pretext of pressure from the community.

“Chances are high for the childless to have a child so long as they follow instructions from the hospital,” Chikumbu says.

Malango concurs with the traditional leader and hails Beam Trust for advocating for couples’ health evaluation to ensure that their conditions are diagnosed and treated in time.

“Couples with the condition can get help in both private and public hospitals. All they need to do is first get information about infertility and then get evaluated physically because some problems related to the condition can be treated locally,” Malango says.— Mana

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