The competition was organised by BEAM Trust and Merck Foundation, which was established in Malawi last year primarily seeking to end stigma and discrimination among infertile couples and offer them hope.
The competition sailed under the theme ‘More than A Mother Initiative.’
At a state luncheon held at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre and hosted by the First Lady, who is the Patron of BEAM, she hailed the partnership with Merck Foundation, saying despite people doubting the launch of the Trust at the beginning, “ we are very proud to showcase fruits of that partnership today.”
“It has never happened before. We are going to go further. We are proud to witness 15 medical professionals from various cadres getting scholarships to study in India. This makes us proud,” she said of the partnership, dubbed BEAM Trust and Merck Foundation Medical Fellowships.
The First Lady disclosed that BEAM had submitted 10 more names to go and study oncology (cancer) fertility, diabetes and hypertension among other subjects under the same umbrella BEAM Trust and Merck Foundation Medical Fellowships.
“It’s a rare opportunity to the health sector. This coincides with the opening of the Cancer centre in Lilongwe whose work is saving a lot of lives.” she said.
“Thank you Merck Foundation for dedication and passion and to the Health Ministry for supporting the programme to benefit Malawians,” she said.
She called on the Health Ministry to utilize the opportunity from her Beam and Merck Foundation partnership to train more health personnel.
Mutharika said non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and blood pressure were killing more Malawians.
“We need to put our attention to these diseases,” she said.
The First Lady thanked the ministries of Health, Gender, Information and Local Government for supporting the programme and the media awards scheme, saying information about infertility and cancer had the “potential to change people’s mindset towards infertility.”
She congratulated the winners who competed at African level. “You have made Malawi shine.”
The First Lady said the media, by covering such subjects, had created an environment for more people with infertility issues to visit hospitals and seek medical care.
VOICE OF THE VOICELESS
“Even broken marriages with infertility issues are reconciled. You are the voice of the voiceless. Keep up the good work,” she told the winners who included Charles Chindongo of MBC.
Chindongo scooped the first prize of $500, followed by Grace Nyenyezi of Zodiak ($200) and Memory Kutengule of Mana ($50).
She said infertility stigma and discrimination was evil. “We will not rest until it’s no longer a woman’s problem only but a shared problem.”
LONG AND DIFFICULT ROAD
The First Lady said the road to deal with infertility issues remained “long and difficult” and vowed to fight on to succeed so that fertility drugs are available at all levels.
Merck Foundation Ambassador Dr Taurai Chitseko Khitinji said the stories by the winning journalists had helped to “break the silence on infertility.”
She said the media need to write such stories to help break stigma and discrimination against couples with infertile conditions.
“We seek to eliminate all forms of abuse,” said Khitinji, adding that infertility issues affect families.
“Not any more that we should remain silent. Now it’s time to break the silence, time to speak up.”
On the scholarships, she said cancer was on the rise in Malawi, saying she looked forward to the time Malawi will have its own more specialists on cancer and fertility.
CAUSES OF INFERTILITY
She said infertility was caused, among other factors, by sexually transmitted diseases and menstrual problems, which needed medical expertise.
Thoko Banda, Principal Secretary in the Information Ministry, praised the journalists for “outstanding stories on women and infertility.”
She encouraged Malawian journalists to pitch more stories on such issues as infertility, girls and women other than politics.
“Women are the foundation of any society. You are providing hope to women.”
Banda thanked the First Lady for her interest to deal with infertility issues, saying society ridicules infertile women.
She said such issues were “neglected areas in our lives.”
The PS said the First Lady was a “role model” and thanked her for initiating BEAM Trust and partnering Merck Foundation.
Dr. Dan Namarika, PS for Health, said the scholarships were symbolic in many ways, citing that the recipients were coming from different centres, starting from health centres, district and referral centers where infertility issues need to be managed.
He said one another symbol was that India had the numbers in healthcare, which will help to “shape you better.”
He said medical professionals were better shaped by how many cases they handle in medicine.
Namarika added that Malawi having launched its cancer control plan and strategy, there was need to strengthen that strategy and the trained medical personnel will be part of the strategy.
“Palliative care and infertility are in line with our strategy,” the PS said.