Hope for childless couples as fertility clinics thrive
Childless couples hoping to get a baby fertility treatment now no longer have to board a plane to South Africa, the UK or the US.
The services are readily available here in Kenya, thanks to growing demand.
Today’s fertility clinics hardly resemble the usual chaotic hospital scenes. Posh and furnished to high taste, they accord their clients not just the right ambience but also privacy.
Dr Alfred Murage, a gynaecologist and fertility specialist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, says there is growing demand for assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilisation and intra-uterine insemination.
“We are currently doing about three or four cycles a week for in vitro fertilisation. In a month, we do about 15 to 25 cycles. Intra-uterine insemination, which is a more basic treatment, is done every other day. We have about five and six couples in a week seeking this one,” he says.
A 2011 study by the Aga Khan University Hospital shows that there are at least two million couples who will require assisted reproductive technology.
Most of them are in the lower socio-economic groups and cannot afford it. Furthermore, most insurance companies do not cover in vitro fertilisation costs and is more often than not an out-of-pocket expense.
The basic cost at Aga Khan Hospital is roughly Sh500,000 for a package that includes freezing spare embryos for five years. Where no freezing is required, the cost slides to Sh400,000.
There are lower cost services for Sh250,000 which include a lower dose injection or the use of tablets to stimulate conception.
“Success rates are determined by the number of live births,” says Dr Murage. “The overall live birth rates are between 30 and 35 per cent.”
The Harley Street Fertility Centre is one of the newer hospitals offering assisted reproductive technology. It opened last year. Although the centre is yet to carry out its first cycle — which is scheduled for this month — inquiries are streaming in.
“Women are having children later in life,” says Sweata Shah, the centre’s director. “As they get older, the quality and quantity of their eggs become poor. We select their best eggs and perform treatments and also treat those with issues such as fibroids.”
The centre is in partnership with specialists such as Dr Rajat Goswamy from Mauritius, who visits the clinic every six weeks for a week to attend to patients.
“There is no such thing as ‘unexplained fertility’,” Dr Goswamy told Saturday Nation. “Many patients walk in thinking that they need in vitro fertilisation, but after tests, we identify the cause and sometimes they need intra-uterine insemination, surgery or other fertility treatments”.
Prof Koigi Kamau of the Nairobi Fertility Clinic estimates that the clinic performs at least 150 in vitro procedures annually, with the average one-off cost totalling Sh400,000 while intra-uterine inseminations cost between Sh35,000 and Sh40,000. The clinic is also running a sperm bank besides offering embryo cryopreservation — the preserving of embryos in sub-zero temperatures.
“The need for in vitro is obviously high in the country but the limiting factors is the cost elements. The science is fairly new and, therefore, very expensive to set up. It is less than 30 years old and the last four years has seen a proliferation of centres in the country,” says Prof. Kamau.
These centres not only offer in vitro fertilisation, intra-uterine insemination and other services but also accept sperm and egg donations.
Harley Street has been seeking sperm and egg donors with the age range of 25 to 41 years for men and 25 and 35 years for the women.
Interested male donors are required to present their medical history and undergo a series of tests such as HIV, Hepatitis, chlamydia, syphilis and malaria among others.
“Donors sign consent forms and give us information with details like their eye and hair colour, ethnic group and profession. This information is 100 per cent confidential and the donor’s name is under no circumstance revealed to the couple,” says Dr Goswamy.
One male donor can assist a maximum of 10 families.
For female donors, the process is a little more complicated. First, she must reveal if she has previously donated eggs (and how many times) because the maximum number of donations is five times.
After scanning the ovaries for any abnormalities and checking their family medical history, the donor is prepared for egg retrieval through a treatment protocol to stimulate the eggs. This treatment includes hormonal stimulation drugs taken over a month.
There is hardly compensation for donors, but one is usually given a “token of appreciation” which depends on the clinic.
Male donors get anything between Sh4,000 to Sh10,000 depending on the clinic. Female donors receive between Sh35,000 to Sh40,000.
“There is huge demand for sperm donors,” says Ms Shah. “We are having queries from single mothers looking for sperm donors. We even have men looking to be single fathers and want a surrogate mothers. There is also demand from couples who cannot carry a child.”
The Aga Khan Fertility Clinic operates the donation service on available-on-demand basis.