According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infertility affects approximately 2 million couples around the world. This common issue isn’t sanctioned to just developed countries, but treatment options like in vitro fertilization (IVF) are – at least for now. That may all be changing, however, now that researchers are working on a more affordable “test tube baby” option.
Unbeknownst to many, infertility is actually a serious problem in some countries. For example, in Africa (and other countries like it) many women suffer from infections and diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea and tuberculosis. Poor resources and lack of care often leaves them with secondary health conditions, like tubal blockages, which prevents them from being able to conceive naturally. And without any other options available to them, many of these women become depressed and isolate themselves.
“Infertility is a disease which does not respect national boundaries,” Richard Kennedy, general secretary of the International Federation of Fertility Societies told Reuters Health in a statement. “Until now, it has been unaffordable for many in the developing world.”
Belgian doctors hope to change that with their low-cost version of the IVF technology, which is basically just a simplified version of the current one. The researchers say that this version would bring infertility treatments to women for as little as $260 per cycle of treatment, which is about 85-90% cheaper than the Western version. Even better, the results with the cost-effective version have been shown to be about the same as the more expensive Western treatment options.
With costs like these, Elke Klerkx from the Genkk Institute for Fertility Technology and his team hope to bring IVF to women all over the world, particularly those that don’t have access to the funds or facilities as women in more developed countries.
“Infertility care is probably the most neglected healthcare problem of developing countries, affecting more than 2 million couples, according to the WHO,” Klerkx told Reuters Health. “Our initial results are proof of principle that a simplified culture system designed for developing countries can offer affordable and successful opportunities where IVF is the only solution. This is a major step towards universal fertility care.”
But the cost-effective IVF option isn’t ready for the real world yet. At this time, the procedure has only been tested in the Belgium laboratory, which is a developed world setting that doesn’t exist in countries like Africa. Larger trials in more developing countries will need to take place, and there will need to be funds to develop laboratories in these settings. Klerkx estimates that one of these clinics be set up for as little as 300,000 euros, which is a stark contrast to the Western clinic cost of about 1.5 million to 3 million euros.
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