About 1 in 6 couples of reproductive age have difficulty conceiving globally. Declining fertility rates from 2.93 children per woman in 2001 to 2.35 children per women in 2011 (Stats SA) have largely been attributed to better use of contraception. At the same time, the number of people wanting to conceive but require medical intervention is rising.
“Lifestyle choices and a growing tendency to wait till later in life to have children are impacting on people’s ability to conceive,” said Director of Wijnland Fertility Clinic in Stellenbosch, Dr Johannes van Waart. But due to innovative eHealth technology in assisted reproduction, fertility treatments such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) are boasting higher success rates, giving new hope to couples with a poor prognosis for successfully conceiving.
In 2013, 6000 IVF cycles were performed in South Africa, costing an average between R35,000 to R50,000 per cycle. Typically, more than one cycle is required before successful implantation. Currently, medical aid schemes do not cover fertility treatment but using new IVF technology such as EmbryoScope™ is demonstrating how the cost of treatment can be minimised while improving success rates.
EmbryoScope™ is an incubator integrated with a camera and Time-lapse System that produces images of embryo cell division in real-time. The pioneering technique allows images of the embryo’s development to be captured as a video, making it possible to closely monitor the embryo’s development at every stage and eliminating the need to remove the embryo from the incubator.
In normal IVF treatment, embryos are removed from incubators daily so specialists can monitor their growth but this increases the risk of embryos coming under stress and important changes or problems being missed. The data generated from the EmbryoScope™ helps doctors select the best embryo with the greatest chance of successful implantation.
Developed by Danish medtech company Unisense Fertilitech, EmbryoScope™ has been used in the treatment of more than 300,000 patients around the world since 2009. Locally, Wijnland Fertility Clinic is using the ground-breaking EmbryoScope™ and has seen a 69% success rate per IVF cycle against a global average of 45-50% per cycle.
The private fertility industry is worth R500 million per year in South Africa and is largely funded by individuals undergoing treatment. Negotiations are underway between the fertility fraternity and medical aids to include fertility treatment as part of their offering, as well as guidelines for how and when patients will qualify for cover. Having more quantifiable data generated by the EmbryoScope™ can contribute to significant cost savings because Single Embryo Transfers reduces the prevalence of multiple births commonly associated with treatment, and also costly complications related to NICU admissions due to premature deliveries.
Wijnland Fertility Clinic’s psychologist, Lizanne van Waart, said: “For each couple and individual, the journey through infertility is a different challenge. Together with harnessing the latest available assisted reproductive technology, we are committed to providing patients with a fully integrated approach to managing the disease and are positive that developments in treatment and governance will put fertility treatment within the reach of a lot more people in need thereof.”