World IVF Day, observed on July 25, symbolises the essence and significance of the In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) technique in infertility treatment. In India, only three out of 30 million infertile couples could pin their hopes on attaining parenthood through treatment, as per a leading healthcare research company, HealthScape.
However, in 2020, the onset of the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis followed by the lockdown has posed an even greater challenge for three million infertile couples in India seeking treatment, say experts. Most of the couples had to postpone their plans of parenthood and those going under treatment could not follow through the complete treatment. A steep fall in the number of patients visiting IVF centres for treatment has been observed during this period, said experts while addressing the ‘Reproductive Health e-Summit’.
Organised by HEAL Foundation with the support of Bharat Serums and Vaccines, Dr Jayesh Amin, clinical director, WINGS IVF Group, Gujarat Chapter Secretary for Indian Fertility Society, (IFS), said, “Motherhood is such an experience that every woman yearns for. And for conception, some women take the help of ‘Assisted Reproductive Technology’ (ART). However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected plans of becoming a mother for those women who were planning or undergoing the IVF treatment.”
“Most centres have resumed work observing the international and national guidelines for the fertility treatment during COVID. The old couples may not have the liberty of time like their younger counterparts and it is wise to start their treatment at earliest. The procedures are performed after thorough risk assessment in a hygienic environment and people must not delay just because of the fear of COVID,” he added.
Notably, more and more young couples are seeking infertility treatment. In India, the rate of couples seeking treatment is higher in the urban population where one out of six couples suffer from infertility and desperately look for solutions, as per 2015-EY report Call for Action: Expanding IVF treatment in India.
As IVF is a time-sensitive treatment, every passing week is crucial for couples who expect to become parents through this procedure. The patient treatment schedule has been changed or postponed due to which they have to face huge emotional dissatisfaction and uncertainty, admit IVF experts. In such a perplexing time, spreading awareness regarding various aspects of reproductive health and assuring such couples through various channels is desirable.
“Out of three million people seeking infertility treatment in India every year, around five lakh seek IVF/Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) treatment. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have suffered a lot. However, we are committed to spreading awareness amongst the masses regarding reproductive health ever since the outbreak of COVID-19 in India. In such a situation, the event like — Reproductive Health e-Summit is very much required for spreading awareness, and we support such an initiative”, said Sanjiv Navangul, managing director and CEO, Bharat Serums & Vaccines Limited.
According to the e-Summit, out of nearly 2,000 IVF centres in India, less than 800 opened up by the end of June.
“IVF cycle is a planned preparation over couple of months. Covid-19 crisis, lockdown measures suddenly changed our world. It led to cancellation of IVF cycle or treatment. Eventually, as lockdown was eased, still there are travel restrictions, absence of public transport, extended lockdown at few places, still exists that ultimately results in cancellation of treatment or discontinuation of treatment,” said Dr Swati Dongre, infertility specialist gynaecologist, Santati IVF Treatment and Fertility Centre, Thane West, Mumbai.
Talking about the significant reduction in patients undergoing fertility treatment in the country, Dr Sweta Gupta, clinical director, Fertility Solutions, Medicover Fertility, New Delhi, urged couples to continue with their treatment and not delay while taking adequate precautions. “The pandemic has been a challenging phase for everyone including fertility treatment which was categorised as a non-essential service. With the unlocking phase, things have slowly started coming back to normal. Couples that are looking for treatment need not delay their plans anymore. Pandemic will stay with us until we either develop herd immunity or get a vaccine discovered. All procedures of IVF are practised after initial risk assessment with COVID risk mitigation steps in a highly sanitised environment and there is no need to fear about its success if you follow preventive guidelines issued by the government,” Dr Gupta said.
Ten reproductive health and IVF experts from across India participated as speakers in the eSummit.