By Dr Kshitiz Murdia
As per the most recent data available, about 27.5 million couples in India are infertile. For a condition that riddles every one in six couples in the country, there is much scope to provide support and help to people across any and all financial backgrounds. Moreover, the number associated with infertility is only set to rise, especially in metro cities where career-oriented persons are delaying the age of getting married, and with increasingly more people adopting detrimental lifestyle practices.
Compared to countries such as Japan, the United States, as well as in Europe, the cost for an IVF (in vitro fertilisation) cycle inches towards a couple of lakhs. In comparison, the cost of IVF in India starts at a lower Rs 1.5 lakh per cycle. Although this is significantly more affordable, a majority of the Indian population that needs this treatment is unable to pay for it. This is especially applicable in smaller towns and rural locations of the country where that is equivalent to a family’s yearly income, and the stigma associated with infertility grave. To boost the sector and overcome the disparity, the government must increase the scope of the healthcare budget for private-public partnerships in the assisted reproductive techniques segment.
Fertility treatment options are not covered under health insurance by companies, both private and public. Insurance companies can play a pivotal role in curtailing the cost and minimising debt risks by including fertility treatments under their wing. At present, only maternity costs are covered.
Additionally, the budget should have provisions made for healthcare education and training. IVF specialists and embryologists are at the helm of operations, and if we are to deduce from data, there is only about one embryologist in 34,375 couples in the country. This is a stark disparity and must be addressed. This is especially in the context of the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill approved by the Union Cabinet, and to be discussed in the Parliament, that seeks to regulate and monitor the fertility treatment space. If or when the Bill is passed, this will lead to a surge in couples seeking treatment, thus, requiring more hands on the deck. We eagerly look forward to the outcome for the same.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is evident that expenditure made in healthcare and education are long-term investments. The world may have hit reverse on years of progress made on chronic, non-communicable, and life-threatening diseases due to the singular attention on the pandemic. It is imperative that the percentage spending of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare and training of healthcare professionals is increased to make up for this. Additionally, medical tourism, that was expected to hit $9 billion by 2020 (FICCI, Ernst & Young), has been affected. Focussed promotional measures and relaxation steps introduced by the budget for when borders between countries are re-opened will help to bolster the segment.
(The author is CEO & Co-Founder Indira IVF)