Blessing Igboeli, a third-year medical student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has been selected to represent the United States as a Fulbright student grantee in Nigeria through the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FSB). The grant is made possible through funds that are appropriated annually by the U.S. Congress and in part by partner countries and/or the private sector.
"This is a unique opportunity to delve into an area that will help to alleviate silent suffering. I feel truly humbled to have received such a prestigious fellowship," said Igboeli.
Igboeli will spend nearly one year in Nigeria, working to educate young couples between the ages of 19 and 26 years old, on the causes of infertility with a focus on the preventable/treatable aspects of infertility, when identified early enough. With Nigeria home to 130 million people, it is estimated 40 million are infertile. According to Igboeli's research, untreated, prolonged STD's are responsible for infertility in about 70 percent of infertile couples. Unique to the African country culture however, are the severe social consequences couples face when unable to conceive. The culture places heavy emphasis on the female role to bear and produce children and it is often the female who is blamed-and shamed-- for an inability to conceive children. Ironically, up to 50 percent of the infertility cases are due to the male factor.
"The male factor, even though a significant contributor to infertility, is rarely considered as a possible cause, partially because of a lack of education. This contributes to the negative stigma and does noting to address the root of the problems. Raising awareness of the role of men and the susceptibility to diseases and the spread of those diseases might prove to be a significant curbing factor in reducing infertility," Igboeli added.
In addition, without access or progressive medical care available, women are faced with a multitude of complications, some severe, when living with undiagnosed and untreated conditions. Social suffering for the woman extends beyond the physical ramifications, as infertility is a logical ground for divorce or the husband may marry more wives, diminishing the status for the woman in the household. Modern options such as surrogate mothers or adoption are not entertained in these societies.
"I hope that this opportunity will help me to shed light to the need for further research," said Igboeli.
The government health policies, which emphasize fertility control, have shifted their resources away from infertility and therefore, couples are denied access to improved healthcare which could detect, diagnose and treat the typical causes of infertility, such as STI's, postpartum and post-abortion infections, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, tubal damage, and exposure to certain chemical compounds. In addition, a growing body of research on the link between sperm quantity and quality and infertility suggests the possible importance of infectious disease, occupational exposures, and diet in developing countries.
Igboeli plans to educate young couples about causes of infertility in hopes of ameliorating the stigma surrounding this issue. In conjunction, Igboeli seeks to help local health officials to improve healthcare communication to the population and to aid in creating the educational infrastructure to encourage routine examinations to include behavior modification and timely treatment of suspected problems.
"Mr. William Fulbright was a visionary humanitarian and this scholarship signifies to me and to those who keep his dream alive through the foreign scholarship that we have an obligation to make this a better world by doing what we can to improve the human condition. I look forward to personal and professional growth that will enable me to contribute my best to the healthcare profession. I intend to embrace the experience wholly," said Igboeli.
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