Plans for an affordable and universally accessible IVF programme, which will be rolled out to tackle infertility in developing countries, were announced at a press conference at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual meeting today. Dr Willem Ombelet, who heads up the ESHRE special task force on 'Infertility and Developing Countries', said that the scheme, now being piloted in Khartoum and Cape Town (and shortly in Arusha, Tanzania), aims to provide one IVF cycle for less than $200.
The UN Population Division estimates that 186 million women of reproductive age in developing countries (excluding China) are infertile, with more than 30 per cent in many African countries unable to conceive a second child. Without feasible treatment options, many of these woman become subject to the social and cultural realities of these countries, facing disinheritance, ostracisation, accusations of witchcraft, abuse by local healers, separation from their spouse or abandonment to a second-class life in a polygamous marriage, highlighted Professor Oluwole Akande, from University Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria.
While a single IVF cycle in Europe or the USA can cost anything from $5000 - $10,000, the new scheme will cut costs by simplifying procedures and customising services to ensure that patients are only given the minimum level of treatment that they need for their particular condition, said Professor Gianaroli, from the SISMER Reproductive Medicine Unit in Italy. 'We will not be able to treat every type of infertility, but many women with tubal damage as a result of infection can be helped', he told the press, highlighting that tubal damage resulting from disease or substandard abortions are thought to be a primary cause of infertility in developing countries.
Ombelet emphasised the need to educate the public about infertility and create an infrastructure capable of delivering the service effectively. 'A universally accessible treatment service is impossible in most developing countries,' he acknowledged. ' But a start can be made by integrating low cost treatments into existing family health services, where opportunities exist for contraception, health education, maternity and childcare, prevention and treatment of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). We have to make a start, and this is how we're doing it,' he said.
The full proceedings of an expert meeting on these issues, held in December 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania, is published this month by the journal Human Reproduction.