IVF worth considering as a solution to infertility

Phillipa Jaja

Infertility is a major problem in our country. In Sub Saharan Africa, infertility prevalence can go up to 25 percent in the reproductive age groups which is 25 to 45 years.

The latest estimate of the prevalence of infertility globally using the demographic definition and live birth as an outcome estimated that 48.5 million couples were affected by infertility.

Societal misconceptions postulate it as a fatal and final condition that has no solutions. Women are the major victims of societal stigma surrounding the condition and solutions offered, whether through religion or traditional means oftentimes yield minimum results or none.

Some have disastrous consequences and some result in promiscuity to get to conceive at all costs. Therefore awareness towards infertility is needed so as to change societal perceptions and destigmatise the widely believed notion that infertility is wholly a woman’s fault.

Science has largely offered us plausible explanations for the condition showing that it is a combined problem between men and women. Reasons given, range from low sperm count in men due to conditions like diabetes or hormonal variations, sexual problems like premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, overexposure to certain chemicals, smoking and certain medications.

In women, it is caused by ovulation disorders, uterine abnormalities, endometriosis which is the thickening of the uterine walls, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases and exposure to certain types of chemicals.

Science has also generated solutions that we are reluctant to pursue because of the ill-conceived notions we have as society. However, it is wise to realise that modern medical procedures have provided alternatives that have yielded results giving hope where there was none.

In Zimbabwe, the in vitro (IVF) fertilisation programme was pioneered by Dr Tony Robertson in the 1980s and 1990s, and it resulted in 52 babies being born during that period.

In 2000 he left the country for a year. Although the programme continued for a while in his absence it was not as successful and was discontinued.

The procedure was reintroduced in 2016 by a team led by Dr Tinovimba Mhlanga and has proved to be a great success with 197 live births recorded so far and more expected before the year ends.

IVF, involves harvesting eggs from a woman’s ovaries and fertilizing them with sperm in a lab. The resulting embryos are then inserted into her uterus. Doctors often recommend IVF as an option for women who haven’t been able to conceive after a year or more of trying. 

Mr Michael Hamilton, Managing Director, MHPR Public Relations, Consultants who spoke on behalf of I.V.F Zimbabwe said age is a key factor for those considering the treatment.

“In vitro fertilisation is most effective for young women aged between 20 and 35. Once you get to 40 years the success rate drops to 10 percent. At age 42 the odds diminish to five percent,” he said.

A news release by I.V.F Harare Zimbabwe which assists couples failing to get pregnant naturally confirms the same. It also says there are almost 500 treatment cycles which have been performed giving an overall average success rate of 39 percent, which compares favourably with the success rate in other countries.

The United Kingdom statistics of the treatment were given as an example.

 “The success rate in the United Kingdom in 2019, according to the United Kingdom Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, was over 30 percent for women under 35, just over 25 percent for women aged 35 to 37, just under 20 percent for those aged 38 to 39, just over 10 percent at between the ages of 40 and 42 and just below five percent for those aged 43 to 44. The success rate rose steadily over the years to reach these levels.”

However, accessing IVF is a pricey venture as the price range is US$5000 and above depending on the patient’s medication as a higher dose attracts a higher amount as well.

However couples may find solace in the fact that certain conditions may lead to a reduction regarding the treatment.

A source at the I.V.F centre who spoke on condition of anonymity for professional reasons said payment terms are relaxed during the second trial due to some logistics.

“In the event that one wishes to pursue a second trial in the event of the failure of the first trial, payment will be reduced to US$1500 on the condition that there are remaining embryos from the first treatment. However, if there are none, the procedure will be done afresh and one will be charged the initial amount.”

Price is therefore a deterrent to couples willing to pursue treatment however as pointed out by Mr Hamilton, it is justified as it is “worthy the cause.”

Emphasis is thus being made to pursue in vitro fertilisation as global research has shown that it is considered one of the most effective treatments for female infertility. It has also been found to be effective in cases of infertility associated with problems in the fallopian tubes and in cases related to problems in the sperm quality of the patient.

The treatment satisfies the natural desire to conceive that is inherent in most women once they reach a certain point in their lives. That more than anything else makes it an issue worth lobbying for as it is normalises one of nature’s imbalances.

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