Arab couples more open to state-of-the-art fertility treatment
Dubai - Infertility, often caused by hereditary genetic diseases, consanguineous marriages and factors related to obesity, tobacco use and heat, is no longer a taboo subject in conservative Gulf societies.
With 18 government and private in vitro fertilisation (IVF) centres in the United Arab Emirates, infertility treatment tops the list of medical procedures sought by residents and medical tourists.
Dr Panayota Zarmakoupis, medical director at Medcare Fertility Centre in Dubai, projected there would be more fertility centres opening in the UAE as the need for infertility treatments is increasing.
Noting that many factors, mostly lifestyle-related, have contributed to decline in fertility, she explained: “Although the basics of infertility treatment are the same around the globe, geography and culture play a major role in the actual treatment of patients here and many factors pose unique challenges to the treatment of infertility in the UAE and Gulf region.”
“In the GCC specifically, male infertility is related to obesity, tobacco use, heat, steroid consumption for bodybuilding and possibly consanguinity. In the female, infertility is related to parental consanguinity, vitamin D deficiency and obesity,” Zarmakoupis said.
Increased rates of consanguineous marriages in the Gulf region’s conservative society give rise to genetic diseases and the need for preimplantation diagnosis and screening has to be discussed with the patients.
“Increasing awareness of the tools we have to eliminate the possibility of certain hereditary genetic diseases and chromosomally screen the embryos before embryo transfer to choose healthy ones is one of our missions in the community. We firmly believe that an educated patient is the best patient we can possibly treat, as education helps make better choices for one’s own medical care,” Zarmakoupis said.
From once being a taboo subject, there has been an increased awareness regarding infertility treatments and available resources for patients.
“This has dramatically changed over the last few years with the help of media coverage and the fact that IVF treatment has also become much more successful since the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, in 1978. Many advances in reproductive medicine have contributed to higher pregnancy rates for patients who are undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment,” she said.
The most common infertility procedures are IVF, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and intrauterine insemination (IUI) — artificial insemination — explained Dr Pankaj Shrivastav, a pioneer in the field, having been invited by the Dubai government to set up and lead the first fertility facility in the UAE, the Dubai Gynaecology and Fertility Centre at the government-run Rashid Hospital in 1991.
The centre was successful with the birth of its first IVF babies as early as 1992 and more than 2,000 babies were born during his 12-year stint. With rising population and growing medical tourism, highly specialised private centres have since opened in the country.
“With government facilities in the UAE and the Gulf restricted to their own nationals and having long waiting lists, it is no surprise that couples from the UAE and nearby Gulf countries like Bahrain, Oman and Qatar seek out the services of specialised private IVF centres in the UAE,” said Shrivastav, who set up his own gynaecology and fertility facility called Conceive in the UAE in 2004.
“An increasing number of couples from Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and also South Asia are coming here for advanced fertility treatment,” he said, arguing that the quality of services and the calibre of the medical personnel are the prime reason for the popularity of the UAE among childless couples.
“While earlier, Emirati couples used to seek treatment overseas, the availability of advanced fertility treatment in the UAE itself has meant that a major portion of the government’s medical expenses could be saved,” Shrivastav said.
“GS” and her husband [name withheld due to privacy concerns] said they went through a demoralising experience at a top IVF clinic in London. After relocating to Dubai following a career change, the couple heard about Shrivastav and made an appointment. After that, they said, everything happened quickly, unlike in Britain where there were long waiting periods. “GS” said she became pregnant through ICSI within two months.
The general cost for IVF treatment in the UAE is $5,445-$10,890, based on the kind of treatment, the credentials of the doctors, the location and the record of the fertility centre.
Costs increase if preimplantation genetic diagnosis and screening is undertaken. The technique allows doctors to check embryos for specific genetic disorders or the entire chromosomal panel before transferring the embryos to the uterus. This increases the chances of a healthy baby being born.