A new fertility treatment costing less than $200 could help many infertile women in the developing world escape the physical abuse and social stigma of not being able to have children, experts said on Monday.
The low-cost in vitro fertilization (IVF) pilot program now under review in Khartoum and Cape Town aims to provide one cycle of treatment for far less than $5,000 to $10,000 the same costs in Europe or the United States, they said.
The goal is creating a system of centers developed around existing hospitals and clinics that would provide more options for infertile women in poor countries, they told a conference.
“Until now there has been almost no action for helping people who are infertile or childless in developing countries,” William Ombelet, a Belgian researcher involved in the project, told the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Barcelona.
“We have to make a start and this is how we are doing it.”
The United Nations estimates that 186 million women of reproductive age in poor countries are infertile, with more than 30 percent in many African nations unable to have another child because of disease or a problem with a previous delivery.
The problem is particularly acute in Africa where infertility can lead to disinheritance, accusations of witchcraft and abuse by local healers, said Oluwole Akande of the University College Hospital in Nigeria.
“By applying the Western lens, infertility treatment, particularly assisted reproductive technology, is mistaken as a desire, rather than a health need,” he told reporters. “The problem is you could call it more of a disease than a desire.”
The key to an affordable program is not attempting to treat every type of infertility but rather targeting those that have the best chance of success, such as women with tubal damage as a result of infection, the researchers said.
They also acknowledged that until governments and international aid organizations step in with funding, even a $200 per cycle price tag will prove prohibitive for many.
“But it will still mean more people can access it,” Akande said. “If we lower the price, then middle-class people can afford it.”
Integrating low-cost treatments into existing family health services where opportunities exist for screening, contraception, health education, maternity and child care is also important, they added.
This will provide greater access and at the same time address infectious diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea or tuberculosis that are the greatest cause of infertility in Africa.
By Michael Kahn