Global statistics show that about one in seven couples suffers from infertility. These couples need some form of fertility treatment in their journey towards parenthood.
Fertility treatments can be as simple as ovulation induction to more sophisticated treatments like in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
IVF/ICSI gives the highest pregnancy rate and it can treat most causes of infertility, both male and female-related.
However, the biggest concern among couples is the high cost of IVF.
Conventional IVF treatment usually costs about RM15,000-20,000 per cycle, and the success rate depends on a few factors.
The older the woman is, the lower the pregnancy rate per cycle, therefore, she may need more than one cycle to get pregnant.
The basic fertility problem of the couple also plays a role.
If, for example, the problem is Fallopian tube blockage in the woman, the chances of her getting pregnant in the first IVF cycle are very good.
However, if the problem is with the quality of the eggs or sperm, more cycles might be needed, depending on the severity of the problem.
In addition, the chances of getting pregnant in the first IVF cycle are also higher if the laboratory is of good quality.
So, it is very important to choose a centre with a laboratory that maintains high international standards.
Therefore, how can you reduce the cost of IVF?
The following tips may help with this problem. In fact, several tips can lead to natural pregnancy with no further medical intervention.
For those who need fertility treatment, these tips also increase the success rate of an IVF cycle.
1. Empower yourself
Knowledge is power. This strategy also works when it come to fertility treatments.
There is a lot of information out there on fertility treatments, either printed or online.
Couples should empower themselves with the basic knowledge of why they are having difficulties conceiving and what their options are.
For a start, they should know about fertility tests and where they can get those done.
This will invariably save them cost in terms of money, emotional stress and time.
2. Get fertility help early
General medical advice is to get a fertility assessment after trying to conceive for one year without success.
However, couples should not fall into this “one year” trap.
This advice is for younger couples (less than 30 years of age) who, if given adequate time, will conceive naturally in 80%-90% of cases. The remaining 10% may need some help.
When the female partner is older or has any known medical conditions, such as endometriosis or irregular periods, which may impair her fertility, early fertility assessment is mandatory.
The one-year rule does not apply to this group of women because the longer they wait, the more their fertility declines.
They should see a fertility specialist after about six months of trying naturally.
For example, a woman with endometriosis may have an ovarian cyst or a blocked tube, which might require laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery.
If they wait for a year, the endometriosis may worsen and impair her fertility further.
3. Go to the right place
This is particularly important if you are a “novice” in your journey towards parenthood.
In this era of modern medicine, couples can sometimes get “lost” in their pursuit of conceiving a child.
They may undergo various fertility tests, and sometimes, repeated tests with different fertility experts.
This long journey of fertility assessments can take a toll on couples. They not only suffer emotional stress, but their pockets are also drained.
The best strategy would be to first decide whether you are ready or not to seek fertility assessment.
Once the answer is a firm “yes”, go directly to a medical centre that specialises in fertility assessments.
A basic fertility assessment can be offered by many centres, but you need to find one that suits your expectations and the depth of assessment needed.
Consulting the right doctor will save you time, emotional stress and money.
4. Do annual health checks
The journey towards parenthood does not start in a day.
A couple needs to nurture their mind and body well in advance of actual conception.
One way to do this is by keeping tabs on your health.
If you have an annual health screening plan from your employer, use it.
When your general health is good, the likelihood of successful fertility treatment is high. This will help save on the overall cost of fertility treatment.
5. Reduce weight
Optimal weight for height (body mass index, BMI) is important for the general health of both women and men.
This is also true when it comes to fertility health for both sexes.
For a man, obesity can reduce the quantity and quality of his sperm.
This is because obesity reduces his testosterone levels by converting it into the female hormone, oestrogen.
Furthermore, obesity can increase the temperature around the testicles, which can directly affect sperm production in them.
For a woman, obesity leads to irregular ovulation and is related to a medical condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
This can lead to poor or no ovulation of her eggs.
Thus, weight reduction can significantly affect the outcome of IVF treatment for both women and men, saving on their overall cost of treatment.
6. Reduce stress
Any form of fertility treatment, especially IVF, can cause a lot of stress among couples.
Available evidence suggests that both fertility-related and non-fertility-related stressful life events can have a negative impact on the outcome of an IVF treatment.
Any method of stress reduction can improve the overall outcome of IVF treatment.
Furthermore, this can help preserve marital harmony and relationships between the couple and with others.
The cost of IVF is not only monetary, but also emotional.
7. Eat well
A winning formula for successful IVF treatment does not begin the day you start your IVF medications; it starts months before the actual treatment.
Maintaining a well-balanced and healthy diet supplies all the essential nutrients for the development of healthy eggs and sperm, which directly improves the IVF success rate.
8, Minimal Stimulation IVF
IVF involves the use of injectable medications to stimulate egg growth.
The bulk of IVF cost is due to the high cost of these medications.
Minimal Stimulation IVF was developed to reduce the overall cost of IVF by using less medications to boost egg growth for suitable women.
A word of caution though, not everyone is suited for Minimal Stimulation IVF, and not all minimal stimulation IVF procedures give a good pregnancy rate.
Thus, it is important to choose a centre that specialises in minimal stimulation IVF.
9, Choose the right fertility centre
Generally, all fertility centres offer standard IVF treatment. However, the centres may differ in terms of their packages and success rate.
Financial packages must be balanced with the success rate of the centre, as even if the package is very cost effective, if the centre does not have a high pregnancy rate, you may end up repeating IVF cycles, which invariably increases your overall cost.
In a good centre, the overall success rate per IVF cycle is more than 50% for a woman less than 35 years of age.
In summary, a good centre may cost more initially, but it saves your overall cost due to its high pregnancy rate. Scout around and find the centre that offers you the best combination for you and your partner.
10. Plan your fertility budget
For some, IVF is affordable, but for many, it needs careful financial planning.
Couples tend to stretch their reserves for a treatment that does not guarantee success.
So, get detailed information about every aspect of IVF cost.
Get the numbers on paper, and if time permits, plan your savings for the next four to six months before the actual IVF treatment starts.
This will lessen the burden of payments and can help to reduce the stress of going through an IVF treatment.
11. Credit card benefits
Some major credit cards offer easy payment or interest-free payments for IVF treatments.
It would be wise to consider using this benefit to help ease the burden of payment for your treatment.
12 .Fertility grants
Fertility grants are given to selected couples based on several criteria.
In Malaysia, the only known organisation that gives such grants is the Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation.
This organisation offers financial support for IVF treatment to eligible couples.
Dr Agilan Arjunan is a fertility specialist and gynaecologist. For more information, e-mail email@example.com. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.