By George Morara
10 per cent of the country’s population, a projected 4.2 million women and men, require serious interventions to treat their fertility complications.
New data released shows that infertility in Kenya is increasingly becoming a major concern with two in every 10 couples found to seek fertility interventions at any given time. Infertility, a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse – is mainly caused by infectious diseases such as untreated Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
The data lists other causes as drug abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, exposure to industrial and environmental toxins among men; irregular menstrual cycles, unsafe abortions and sex including late child bearing among women. Infertility experts said at a Merck Foundation event in Nairobi that 50 per cent of the 20 per cent of couples with complications are regularly seeking costly specialised treatment to correct these conditions.
According to Dr. Pauline Kibui, Dr. Wanjiku Ndegwa and Prof. Koigi Kamau, the couples frequent a few specialised centres largely located in Nairobi for medicines, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In-vitro-Fertilization (IVF). “There are nine available specialist centres in the country largely spread in Nairobi with one based in Mombasa.
Sadly, the centres do not run on a daily basis despite the challenges facing infertility patients in the country. This makes them run just 1000 IVF cycles per year,” Kibui told Health Business Magazine. In 2016, WHO estimated that 62, 000 cycles of IVFs should be done among 42 million Kenyans but Kibui said only 2000 cycles could be done.
“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), the cost of training one expert which goes for up to Sh500, 000 per month minus food and accommodation,” said Kibui.
One embryologist requires up to 12 months of training, this could even be longer. Kenya lacks good embryologists, with a possible five documented in private practice, said Ndegwa. Koigi said that a lot of men experience discharges as a result of untreated STDs but do not bother to go for check-up and treatment.
The experts observed that infertility affects men and women equally, with 30 per cent due to male factors, 30 per cent due to female factors while the other 40 per cent is often due to a mixture of problems referred to as ‘unexplained’. Koigi urged the government to subsidize the cost of IVF to make it affordable to many poor couples.
IVF costs Sh500,000 per cycle. Linda Hiaduwa, an infertility victim urged the media to create awareness on infertility. She also called for more screening centres and clear policies on fertility. “Educate People about this scourge because you have power to reach out. Together we can make it,” 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.
Men, on the other hand, are constantly making fresh sperm every 90 days so those cells remain young and healthy even though the man is older. Other studies indicate that most other common reasons for male infertility are issues with how the testicles create and dispense sperm, hormone imbalances, or blockage.