In June, an uncommon e-mail got here in the inbox of an NPR worldwide health reporter.

The heading was: “Merck Structure together with Very first Woman of Burundi release ‘Plus Qu’une Mere’ an empowering French Tune as courtesy to all sterile females in Burundi and Africa.”

The e-mail had a link to a video of an efficiency with an all-female choir. Using standard African clothes printed with the Merck Structure’s logo design, they sing a tune with lyrics that motivate individuals not to blame females for infertility.

They’re carrying out prior to an audience of possibly a hundred individuals, the majority of them in comparable Merck clothes.

The video raises a variety of concerns: Can a tune be practical to females who are sterile? What is the function of the First Woman of Burundi in this task? And … why is almost everybody in the choir and audience using the Merck logo design? To find out more, NPR spoke with the Merck Structure and to professionals who handle infertility and the effect of musical health messages.

A Musical Message

The tune becomes part of a continuous project called “More Than A Mom” from Merck Structure, the charitable arm of the pharmaceutical business Merck KGaA Germany

Given That 2016, the Structure has actually been staging video, efficiencies and tunes (along with style programs and media trainings) to send out the message to African nations that a lady must not be blamed if she is not able to bear kids.

The project messaging likewise keeps in mind that for those females and guys who do look for fertility treatments, Merck has choices.

( When it comes to the clothes of the choir vocalists, one worldwide health scientist talked to by NPR was not worried. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, discusses Jocelyn E. Finlay, a senior research study researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it prevails for neighborhood leaders to commemorate unique occasions by printing big swaths of standard African material with the logo design of a sponsoring group for visitors to develop into clothes.)

Neglected Subject

Merck’s efforts are essential since infertility is an under-researched concern all over the world, states Finlay, who studies reproductive health in low-income nations.

” The total message is not a bad one,” she states of Merck’s project. “Very little [in terms of funds and research] is going on for maternal health today– concerns are moving somewhere else. Merck is among the couple of companies that focus on females’s health in establishing nations” through research study, collaborations with regional healthcare organizations and public education.

And Merck is doing more than hosting style programs and making video.

The Structure likewise sponsors an Embryology & Fertility Training Program, a three-month course in scientific and useful matters in more than 30 nations throughout Africa and Asia. Given That 2015, the program has actually trained 109 fertility professionals.

Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Structure, stated she might not share the budget plan of the program since the figure is “difficult to extract.” It becomes part of Merck’s bigger effort to supply training to health-care employees in the establishing world on such medical issues as cancer, diabetes and rehab, she states. Which wider effort consists of assistance and monetary contributions from its partners, consisting of the Manipal Academy of College in India and the International Institute for Training and Research Study in Reproductive Health in the kind of totally free tuition and other contributions.

The infertility program is specifically crucial in sub-Saharan Africa. While the area has a few of the greatest birth rates worldwide, it likewise has among the greatest rates of infertility internationally, according to the World Health Company. Around the globe, more than 180 million couples deal with infertility. In the poorest nations, the 12- month infertility frequency rate– failure to attain a scientific pregnancy after 12 months or more of routine unguarded sex– varies from 6.9 to 9.3%, according to WHO.

As in lots of parts of the world, females in sub-Saharan Africa who can’t have kids typically feel a sense of embarassment. “There is an expectation that females can bear kids. And when they do not get pregnant, then it’s presumed it’s the female’s fault,” states Finlay.

The majority of cases of infertility in this area are triggered by infections, for instance Sexually transmitted diseases or pelvic infections, according to a 2011 research study in Truths, Views and Vision in OB-GYN A few of these causes are treatable, however the strategies are typically too pricey for most of the population. And there are couple of fertility professionals and treatments on the continent, states Finlay.

Infertility Take Care Of All

Merck Structure, states Kelej, is increase fertility services to individuals from all earnings levels. In addition to its training program, it has actually coordinated with the International Federation of Fertility Societies to supply fertility services to public health centers throughout Africa. The concept is to supply low-income clients who are attempting to develop with standard treatments– for instance, eliminating fibroids or dealing with infections.

In this collaboration, Merck links African fertility professionals to technical specialists who take a trip to the regional center. They show how to utilize the medical devices or supply help in establishing an in-vitro fertilization center. Up until now, Merck and IFFS have actually assisted establish fertility centers in public health centers in Uganda and Guinea.

” We desire females and couples to have access to whatever: details and health. We wish to alter their frame of mind around infertility and let them understand they have an option,” states Kelej.

Tunes To ‘Em power’ Ladies

The “More Than A Mom” project has actually up until now introduced 14 regional tunes with vocalists from Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Merck states the tunes were developed to “empower” females with the message that there is more to life than being a mom. Male should not blame females if they aren’t able to have kids. One lyric goes, “Life is larger than having kids, my good friend.”

And the tunes mention that infertility can likewise be a concern for guys. In a tune called “ Life Is Larger,” Rwandan artist Tom Close, sings: “Yes, she may be the one with the issue. However you may too be the one with the issue.”

Close is among the lots of artists that the Structure got to produce tunes and video to show regional culture and language. The artists likewise consist of the regional all-female choir from Burundi, a vocalist called Sunita from Gambia and a Kenyan rap artist (with more than a million Instagram fans) referred to as Octopizzo.

And naturally, there is the tune composed and carried out by the First Woman of Burundi, H.E. Madam Denise Nkurunziza. Kelej states that Nkurunziza is a vocalist in her own right and put out variations of her “More Than A Mom” tune in French, English and Kirundi, a Bantu language spoken in her nation.

A few of the videos can be discovered on the Structure’s YouTube channel The objective is for the tunes to get regional TELEVISION and radio airplay.

If succeeded, musical messaging can be an excellent method, states Carlos Chirinos Espin, a teacher of music and worldwide health and the director of New york city University’s Music and Social Modification Laboratory. “There is a body of literature that reveals home entertainment education has a strong capability to alter habits in health.”

According to the 2019 SAGE International Encyclopedia of Music and Culture, music has actually assisted alter mindsets and notify the general public about illness from HIV/AIDS to malaria. Espin himself assisted establish a project throughout the Ebola crisis called Africa Stop Ebola, to raise awareness about the pandemic.

However some worldwide health supporters and ethnomusicologists talked to for this story state that the “More Than A Mom” video fail. In one video from August 2018, for instance, Merck Structure coordinated with Octopizzo and Rozzi, a vocalist from Sierra Leone.


Entitled “Octopizzo ft. Rozzi, Remix of Merck More Than A Mom Tune,” it reveals an African guy kicking his better half out of a home since she can’t have kids. A couple of scenes later on, the female– using an African print garment and noticeably disheveled– goes to consult with a lady sitting behind a huge desk and computer system at an office complex. That female is Kelej, CEO of the Merck Structure.


Merck Structure Via YouTube/ Screenshot by NPR.


Merck Structure Via YouTube/ Screenshot by NPR.


Merck Structure Via YouTube/ Screenshot by NPR.

Kelej, an Egyptian nationwide with blonde hair and Western clothes, raises the female’s downcast confront with her hands. Seconds later on, the African female is strolling down the hall of a structure using Western clothes. In the next scenes, her fortune modifications. She begins her own service, satisfies the guy of her dreams, gets remarried and– with the assistance of her other half, starts infertility treatments.


Merck Structure Via YouTube/ Screenshot by NPR.

The video is “troublesome,” states Austin C. Okigbo, an associate teacher of worldwide health and ethnomusicology at the University of Colorado, Stone. It makes it appear as if the biomedical intervention resolves all issues, however it “does not resolve the culturally rooted issue of blaming females for infertility.”

” A medical service [only works] when the cultural predispositions have actually been dealt with,” he includes. “It can be a choice for those who want to go that path. It implies that Merck is out to offer their item and not there to resolve the issue of infertility preconception.”

Kelej disagrees with the criticism. “I do not think there is a double message,” she states. “We desire females and couples to have access to whatever: details and health. We wish to alter their frame of mind around infertility and let them understand they have an option.”

Power Characteristics

The Octopizzo and Rozzi video raises other issues. Some social justice supporters are anxious with the images in the video including Kelej. The African female’s life is just changed after fulfilling Kelej and dealing with the Merck Structure.

The power dynamic in between Kelej– who works for a Western international pharmaceutical business– and the African female stimulates the white hero complex, states Nora Rahimian, the co-founder of #CultureFix, a worldwide network of artists who utilize the arts to produce social modification. It feels “neocolonial. There are power characteristics at play.”

Whether the music worked in assisting to alter popular opinion on infertility refers time and research study, states Okigbo. “The only method you can understand is to release a qualitative analysis prior to and after the project to see if the level of awareness has actually altered, possibly after a couple of years.”

Something is specific, state the 5 scientists talked to for this story: The Merck Structure represents an organisation– and it has the business’s bottom line in mind.

” They are not going to have the ability to produce a need for their item unless they inform their customers that they must require an item,” states Usha Sundaram, a senior speaker in customer and digital marketing at the Norwich Service School at the University of East Anglia. “It’s book marketing.”