COVID-19 Shuts Door To Infertile Women Seeking IVF Services In Zimbabwe

MAJORITY of women seeking In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) services could not be assisted during the COVID-19 induced lockdown restrictions despite the fact that many could be racing against their biological clock.

By Michael Gwarisa

In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is a complex series of procedures used to help with fertility or prevent genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child. During IVF, mature eggs are collected (retrieved) from ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab.

In an interview with HealthTimes, Mwanachipo Africa Trust (MAT) Board Chairperson, Mr Heaven Munyuki said Covid-19 had disturbed infertile women willing to undergo IVF and have fears that time is no longer on their side as they fast approach recommended age limit of 40.

There are a lot of issues that come up when looking at this issue. Firstly, you find that most of the IVF centers are in Bulawayo and Harare. We have the Bulawayo Assistant Reproductive Technology Centre then we have IVF center in Harare. These are the two major centers where IVF is done.

“Therefore, you find out that with travel restrictions, a lot of our members do not have proper paper works that is letters and other documentation required for ease of movement, which means if a women or a man wanted to have an IVF done on him or her, it  means if they don’t have proper paper work, they are returned home by the security services so we are working hard to ensure those who wish to have paper work can get them at our offices,” said Mr Munyuki.

He added that when the lockdown commenced in March 2020, most women’s husbands were locked out in foreign lands and would later be quarantined while the clock was ticking.

“You find that when the lockdown started, there are a lot of women whose husbands were locked out in foreign lands. These husbands in most cases are employed and they might just get a few days off. But with the requirements now which also require them to go into quarantine and probably spend two weeks there, it means those people with limited time they will not manage to undergo all the IVF processes.

“Those women whose husbands work outside the country won’t be able to  do the IVF procedures due these circumstances. Even some ladies who are outside the country and in need of IVF services in Zimbabwe can’t just come, they have to conform with these restrictions and spend their two weeks in quarantine.”

He also said members and people seeking IVF services just like everyone else, are not immune to the virus and they fear of contracting the virus has forced them to stay indoors, in the process forgoing their IVF procedures. He also said should an IVF client also come into contact with a COVID-19 patient or test positive for COVID-19, health regulations require her to be isolated longer, in the process missing out on her IVF schedule.

“You also find that the COVID-19 induced lockdown has not only affected the couples needing IVF services but also potential sperm donors and egg donors. Because of travel restrictions, these sperm donors and egg donors also go into lockdown.

“Therefore, it means the stocks of people who do IVF at these centers might be depleted. What happens is that when people select sperm donors, they have their own description of the kind of people whose sperm they would prefer to be fertilized with.

“Now because of the lockdown, stocks have been depleted and once stocks are depleted and limited like this, it also reduces options for women in terms of choosing the kind of sperm they would prefer getting fertilized with. At times its possible not to find sperm donors or sperms in stock,” said Mr Munyuki.

He also bemoaned the exorbitant COVID-19 testing prices being charged in private sector which he says have negatively impacted on stocks as majority of people can’t afford covid-19 testing and therefore can’t be admitted or allowed inside the IVF centers without valid test results. He also said a positive COVID-19 result could disrupt the IIVF cycle.

According to the Merck Foundation, one in every four couples in developing countries is affected by infertility, while one in six couples worldwide experience some form of infertility problem at least once during their reproductive lifetime. The current prevalence of infertility lasting for at least 12 months is estimated to affect between 8 to 12% worldwide for women aged 20 to 44.

In recent years, the number of couples seeking treatment for infertility has dramatically increased due to factors such as postponement of childbearing in women, development of newer and more successful techniques for infertility treatment, and increasing awareness of available services. This increasing participation in fertility treatment has also raised awareness and inspired investigation into the psychological ramifications of infertility. It can cause stress, depression and anxiety, which is why it is important to know that there are options available for treatment.

Dr Sulaiman Heylen, President of the Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy (SASREG) said up to 50% of all patients who visit a fertility centre are 35 or older and young women need to be aware that there is a slow decline in fertility from their 20s until the age of 35, after which it starts to decrease rapidly until the age of 45.

“It’s extremely important for couples to investigate fertility options and fertility preservation earlier in life, rather than leaving it too late. A woman who is not ready to have a child can choose to freeze her eggs to try to preserve her ability to have a child later,” says Dr Heylen.

It’s estimated that 20 to 30% of infertility cases are explained by physiological causes in men, 20 to 35% by physiological causes in women, and 25 to 40% of cases are because of a problem in both partners. In 10 to 20% no cause is found. Infertility is also associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking, body weight and stress. A woman’s age is one of the most important factors affecting whether she is able to conceive and give birth to a healthy child. This is due to several changes that are a natural part of ageing:

 

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