After more than a year of planning, setbacks and challenges, the Association of Childless Couples of Ghana (ACCOG) sponsored a successful conference of childless African adults in March 2014. The common belief in Ghana is that when a couple has trouble conceiving, it’s the woman’s fault. Period. It’s a culture where where infertility is grounds for divorce and older NotMoms are thought to be witches. The camaraderie at such a first-ever gathering is hard to imagine, but when I try, it makes me smile.
Since writing a post in May 2013 about ACCOG founder Nana Yaw Osei’s efforts, we’ve e-mailed a few times, and I knew that this year, it would happen. According to the agenda for Ghana’s National Conference on Childlessness, the theme was “Hope for Childless Couples”. That explains why the day-long event discussed various options to get a child, but not a single session about acceptance when no child is forthcoming.
The big conference speaker was Willem Ombelet, MD, Ph.D. from Belgium. Dr. Ombelet is a director of The Walking Egg Project (TWE), a non-profit raising awareness about childlessness in resource-poor countries since 2010. The Project is spreading the word about a less expensive new way to do in vitro fertilization (IVF) that could make it within reach of women in Third World nations.
Dr. Ombelet says that while IVF available in a few African countries, it is accessible for less than 0.1% of that population. In his opinion, celebrations over 4.5 million babies born using IVF techniques since 1978 are no cause for celebration. “In my view, if you have a technique that’s only accessible for less than 10% of the world’s population, it’s not a big success,” he said.
The Walking Egg Project partners with ESHRE (European Society of Human reproduction and Embryology) and WHO (World Health Organisation in promoting a simplified IVF method. Developed by American and Belgian researchers, some say it has the potential to open up a new era in the history of IVF and significantly lower the cost.
In the video, Dr. Ombelet addresses arguments against his work. The world is already over-populated. That area of the world is over-populated. What about the economy? His response is that the technology already exists and is being used by women desperate to have a baby. But only the ones who can pay for it. IVF in some African sites costs more than in his home country of Belgium.
Dr. Ombelet concludes that arguments like those are rarely heard in more affluent regions where talk of freezing eggs is an every day affair. To deny the hope of this technology based on where a woman lives, what she looks like or how much money she has is clearly unfair.