HEALTH risk factors, such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, are considered to be among the dominant risk factors for both male and female infertility.
Zimbabwe is not spared among the countries battling an increased rate of youth who are abusing drugs and alcohol.
Commonly used drugs and substances by youths in Zimbabwe include broncleer, mangemba, musombodhiya (alcohol brew composed of diluted ethanol or methanol), maragadu, codeine, chloropromazine, popularly known as ‘dombo’, blue diamond, cane spirits, marijuana and glue, among others.
It is sad to note that many youths in urban areas engage in drugs to forget their problems while others do it is just to kill time but the facts are that the drugs are causing real health damage.
The youths engage in drugs and become addicts so as to deal with temporary ‘problems’ while the irony is that they are creating permanent problems that can affect their health systems in the near future.
Chief among the health effects is infertility.
According to WHO, infertility is a disease of the male or female reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy (in women) after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
Estimates suggest that between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals live with infertility globally.
In a presentation at a Merck Foundation Health Media Training held for Zimbabwe recently, Obstetrician and Gynecologist Dr Mugove Madziyire said infertility is a condition that affects youths.
“Infertility is one of the commonest conditions affecting reproductive age group between 20 and 45 years,” he said.
Dr Madziyire also pointed out alcohol, drug and substance abuse as some of the causes of infertility.
“One should avoid alcohol and ‘street’ drugs,” he said. “These substances may impair your ability to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy.”
It is also sad and worrying to note that some of the effects of drug abuse among youths is that some countries and families are likely to face problems of having an under population.
For pregnant women who engage in drug and alcohol abuse, there is a risk of miscarriage, pre-term labour, birth defects, still births and a higher risk of sudden infant deathsyndrome (SIDS).
For males, abuse of drugs and alcohol can reduce sperm production, cause erectile dysfunction, lower fertilisation rate and damage seminiferous tubules (where sperm develop, reach maturity and travel to the testes), as well as diminish function of testes.
Smoking of cigarettes, tobacco and drugs is also highlighted as a risk factor that can lead to infertility.
Dr Madziyire reiterated the need for people to quit smoking if they have plans of having children.
“Tobacco has multiple negative effects on fertility, not to mention your general health and the health of your unborn baby,” added Dr Madziyire.
According to some clinical and health research, smoking can lead to male infertility as result of the mechanism of adverse effects of certain ingredients of cigarettes.
The effects can be on sperm parameters which then are complex and involve the effects on the secretion of reproductive hormones thereby compromising their impact on spermatogenesis and sperm quality, therefore, infrastructural abnormalities occur.
It is against this background that one can hear of male smokers having lower semen volumes, sperm counts and low percentage of motile sperm.
Smoking drugs and cigarettes can also lead to effects of ejaculation volume.
Alcohol consumption, on the other hand, is often considered socially acceptable, but has negative effects on gonadal function.
Drinking alcohol can reduce both male and female fertility.
In women, even drinking lightly can reduce the chance of pregnancy.
Just like drugs, high amounts of alcohol can be harmful to unborn babies.
For ethical reasons, interventional studies regarding the effects of tobacco use, second-hand smoking and re-creational drug abuse and alcohol consumption are generally not feasible in human.
In his presentation, Dr Madziyire also revealed that the accepted fact by society is that men are core to reproduction but the neglected fact is that men can be core to infertility.
Merck Foundation, therefore, is working with African First Ladies, the media and obstetricians as well as gynecologists to conscientise societies in knowing that infertility is a shared responsibility, therefore, there is need for couples to share the treatment journey together.
The mandate is also for communities to know that infertility does not just affect women only.
Men should also seek treatment and go for check-ups because, according to Dr Madziyire, about half of the causes of infertility are due to, or include, male factors.
Men should also know that sperm production delivery system is affected by different defects that include anatomical (physical defects) which are acquired and congenital abnormalities which are problems present at birth.
Physiological factors that include a failed function of hormones and environmental influences that result from excessive temperatures, radiation, drugs, alcohol, use of drugs and industrial toxins can also affect sperm production, leading to infertility.
An action plan to eliminate abuse of alcohol and drugs in youths is, therefore, necessary to avoid future generational problems.
Fertility care is one of the measures that communities should embrace.
It involves the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infertility.