Male infertility retains a lonely and shameful stigma.
Image: 123RF/ Cathy Yeulet

While medical research shows that struggles by couples to conceive can often be attributed to the male partner‚ it remains a lonely and shameful stigma.

This is according to the wife of a man who unknowingly endured male infertility untreated for years.

Thomas Ncube’s wife Marcia* said he supported her through years of negative pregnancy tests‚ believing the problem lay with her.

Six years into their battle to conceive‚ after blood tests‚ scans and a laparoscopic operation‚ it came as a shock when Marcia was given a clean bill of health‚ revealing that the issue lay with him‚ not her.

“Whenever a couple battles to conceive‚ society naturally yields to the possibility that it is the woman who may be the cause‚” said Marcia. “That’s what both of us also thought. While I’ve known other couples who did not have children‚ I never thought it [was possibly] because of the husband.”

Following the diagnosis‚ Marcia said her husband experienced waves of denial and shame. He felt like a failure.

“I think it was a lack of knowledge because whenever we heard of male infertility‚ we don’t hear of treatments for male infertility.

“For example‚ a television soapie a few years ago showed one guy whose wife was failing to get pregnant. The family of the guy decided that his brother should instead impregnate his wife on his behalf‚” said Marcia.

“You also see adverts that speak of issues of circumcision‚ erectile dysfunction and things like that‚ but not much is said about where men can get help for this problem.”

The couple has since undergone in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. Although the process cost them a lot‚ it finally paid off.

“We were successful after our second round of IVF‚” smiled Marcia.

They are now the parents of a two-year-old daughter.

This publication spoke to Marcia’s husband‚ who although giving his account of the journey asked to not be quoted in this article.

For this Zimbabwean couple now living in South Africa‚ the story of how their daughter was conceived is something they chose not to share with friends and family.

In a bid to break the stigma around infertility in Africa‚ the Merck Foundation - a German-based non-profit organisation working in the healthcare sector - last week brought about 200 journalists from various African countries to Kenya for a media training session about reporting on infertility.

Professor Oladapo Ashiru from Nigeria‚ president of the African Fertility Society‚ spoke about the importance of the media disseminating the correct information about infertility.

Ashiru said Africans needed to know that infertility was neither witchcraft nor a myth‚ and that there are ways to treat it.

“There are men that know they have a problem but they are afraid to come forward because of a lack of awareness that there are solutions‚” he said.

“There is an accepted fact that men are core to reproduction‚ but they can be core to infertility too‚” said Kenyan Professor Koigo Kamau.

He said the causes of male infertility include exposure to industrial and environmental toxins (like certain paints and petrochemicals)‚ high temperatures (from excessive riding of motorbikes‚ hot baths‚ etc)‚ obesity‚ drugs and alcohol.

Dr Rasha Kelej‚ CEO of Merck Foundation‚ said it was important to tell stories about male infertility‚ noting that there is “no relation between infertility and sexual ability or manhood.”

Kelej said men needed to know that male infertility was more easily treated than female infertility. “It only requires one good sperm out of millions to make a baby‚” she said.

* Not the couple's real name.

• Naledi Shange was a guest of the Merck Foundation at the conference in Kenya.

View Comments