Infertility: Succour for affected persons in Zimbabwe

Tafadzwa mwanengureni

As a newly married couple in the autumn of the New Millennium (2000), Godknows Mabuwa and his wife looked forward to become parents the following year. However, fate had other plans for them as 2001 passed without a sign of pregnancy for Mabuwa’s wife and this marked their 14 year journey of childlessness.

“A year after our marriage we started seeking spiritual intervention as we got worried about my wife not getting pregnant,” said 55-year old Mabuwa. Mabuwa got married at 31 when most youths have already established their own family with children.

Their childlessness made the society and close relatives stigmatise them.

“One of my relatives once directly approached me and advised we separate because we failed to have a child at the expected time. Even church members at one point accused us of superstition and once asked to confess because they had prayed and fasted for us, but to no avail,” said Mabuwa.

Up until in 2012 when Mabuwa was involved in a fatal accident and was later diagnosed with hypertension which led him to start visiting the doctor for regular check ups, he had no condition that required medical treatment.

Godnows Mubawa now with children

“In 2013 when I visited my doctor he asked if there is something bothering me as my blood pressure was too high. Jokingly, I told him it was its my state of childlessness that is disturbing my peace. Unexpectedly he started  counselling us and did some infertility test only to discover that l was the one at fault,”said Mabuwa.

Mabuwa was then referred to a specialist who then prescribed some medication for him to use and within three months and his wife got pregnant. Infertility is one of the most global ignored sexual reproductive health concern as much attention is on limiting number of children.

According to a 2023 report by the World Health Organisation around 17.5% of adult population – roughly 1 in 6 worldwide – experience infertility, showing the urgent need to increase access to affordable high quality fertility care for those in need.

In a country like Zimbabwe accessing fertility care is for the rich, however, for the poor only the grace of the heavens will come to their rescue from the bondage of infertility.

Mabuwa’s infertility experience triggered a passion to offer psycho-social support to the people with infertility through his voluntary organisation called Zimbabwe Fertility Promotion Centre which he launched in 2018.

Establishment of infertility oriented movements is slowly reducing stigmatisation of women thereby saving marriages as some men now understand that they can also be responsible for the problem while others got assistance in acquiring required drugs from other countries since locally they are scarce

Members who face stigma because of infertility, get conselling for free if they approach the organisation and also medical advices which allows the sharing of problems and ideas. ZFPC shares the same purpose with MwanaChipo Africa Trust (MAT) as both organisations work to offer psycho-social support to the infertile community and connect members with specialists.

MAT Founder, Heaven Munyuki and his wife had same experience with Mabuwa as they waited for more than five years without a child.

When they finally conceived through a medical route, they launched an online support group in 2019 which got a large response from people with infertility and made Munyuki and his wife to establish a MAT in 2020.

“Our services are absolutely free, people only pay for the services to the medical practitioners but we engage with them to lower prices or provide favourable payment terms. We have helped a number of couples whose marriages were at the verge of collapsing. We would offer psycho social support, counselling and information dissemination,” Munyuki explained.

In most cases of infertility, men reject their infertility status, thereby blaming women, especially in instances that the couple never had a medical examination to find who is at fault.

However, even for those who are aware of their fault, it’s hard for them to accept their status because in most African settings being a man can be proven by being able to sire children.

At a point Farirai Chadenga’s** marriage was troubled as her husband denied his condition.

Chadenga (44), got married in 2013 after her husband separated with his first wife due to infertility.

She entered the marriage fully aware of her partner’s condition, but the husband became a burden to her as he had been living in denial due to his condition.

“The major challenge I faced in my marriage was my husband  who was in denial after his former wife gave birth to a man she is now married to.He started drinking alcohol recklessly, and involved in fights at work and I had to deal with that. We sought for counselling, but to no avail as he couldn’t see any reason to live and at our marriage almost collapsed because of that,” she said.

She is among couples that were once referred to a specialist by Mabuwa, but her husband couldn’t follow the prescription as he was still in denial.

Although she is now based in the United Kingdom, she is still connected to her roots through ZFPC.

“Interacting with others in the childless community you come to understand that different experiences that infertile people encounter and you would find that  your situation might be better than that of others. With ZFPC I have seen many testimonies and the community makes you not feel alone as people meet and discuss and it feels like have family,” Chadenga explained.

Apart from being stigmatised by family and relatives, workplaces have also become a  harsh environment for people with infertility.

Flora Chisango ** (35)  had to quit her job as a nurse at a private health institution in Gweru due to stigmatisation from her workmates.

“From my community and family  l haven’t faced so many challenges, but workplace had been hectic. Workplace have been horrible, to the extent that I had to quit the job as workmates would throw in some insensitive comments and upon reporting the matter the response was, it’s not work related and it end there”, said Chisango.

She is a member of MAT which she joined after a Gynaecologist recommended the organisation for offering psycho-social support to childless people.

“Mwana Chipo Africa has been a source of inspiration for me and it has also given me a chance to interact with other ladies who have some infertility problems just like me. Through this group I have also learnt to be tolerant in tempting situations and we have a chance to ask questions and get responses from many medical specialists,” Chisango ssaid.

Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaelogist Dr Mugove Gerald Madziyire told this publication that it is difficult to calculate the infertility rate in Zimbabwe as some affected people dont own up.

“The proportion of causes of infertility is comparable between men and women. Our study done in Harare in 2020 showed that male factors were as high as 30%. Causes of infertility are mainly female tubal damage, failure to release eggs (annovulation) and sperm problems (abnormal or low count)”, said Dr Madziyire.

Majority of people with infertility are not aware  that they can be medically cured since the information is not available in many health facilities in Zimbabwe.

In most settings, women are the ones that seeks medical attention and in cases of infertility, women are often blamed for the problem.

Munyuki agreed that knowledge deficit especially in men is the major cause the collapse of marriages.

“As you know our culture don’t believe the problem might lie with them, so most of them deny or try to run away from the issue. So what we do is we request husbands contact from their wives and we convince them to have a meeting where we sit down with them and provide them with information about infertility so that they understand the correct position and after that we refer them to the facilities which we think they might get help,”Munyuki stated.

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