Don’t defer fertility treatment because of pandemic, say doctors

Age matters even in assisted pregnancies, say city doctors as many couples had discontinued their visits last year
Last Updated 27 August 2021, 19:01 IST

Many couples in Bengaluru, who had stopped their fertility treatment when the pandemic hit, are returning to clinics and hospitals now.

The fear of contracting Covid-19, phobia around pandemic pregnancies, and job losses and salary cuts were keeping them away, doctors told Metrolife. Some couples had a break in their treatment because they had moved to their hometowns following the lockdowns.

Cut to the present. An infertility treatment chain has seen 30,000 new couples come for assistance to its centres across India since the second wave started easing. This is in addition to the clients who had deferred their treatment since 2020. Others in the city have also seen an increase in walk-ins and queries.

There have been exceptions like a healthcare centre in Neelasandra, which saw a consistent flow of couples through this period.

So what has changed since the second wave, we asked? The “knowledge gap about the coronavirus”, begins Dr Chandana Narayana, a consultant gynaecologist and infertility specialist in Bengaluru.

“When the pandemic first hit, there was a fear about the safety to conceive or to even visit the clinic for consultations. But people are more informed now. Women can go ahead with pregnancy and breastfeeding, whether they have Covid, are recovering from it or have recovered. It’s also safe to take the vaccine.”

Dr Pallavi Prasad, a fertility consultant in the city, agrees: “During the first wave, we had stopped elective procedures following the government order and our internal decision. We didn’t want to risk the lives of our clients.” But the vaccine approval for pregnant women has allayed those fears greatly, she says and lauds the BBMP for doing a good job on this front. Her clinic also decided to counsel the ‘backlog clients’ over the phone. Moreover, many couples have realised the pandemic is not going to go away soon — not at least in a few months as the talks of a third wave and mutants become routine. “There is no point in waiting it out, they’ve realised. They have to live with the pandemic and take action sooner because age is critical in pregnancies, whether natural or assisted,” says Dr Nirmala Chandrashekar, a consultant — obstetrics gynaecology and gynaec oncology, who practices in Bengaluru.

The economy is recovering and some couples are in a better position than before in affording these treatments. In some centres, IVF (In vitro fertilization) costs upwards of Rs1.8 lakh, and IUI (Intrauterine insemination) comes for Rs8-Rs12 lakh.

Dr Manisha Singh, a senior consultant of gynaecology and reproductive medicine in the city, says, “Treatments like IVF or IUI are not cheap per se. They are expensive, and not to forget, they don’t guarantee a pregnancy. So couples make a conscious choice, knowing very well that the treatment may not go favourably and then plan their expenses. A few of her clients had dropped out in 2020 because of financial constraints.

The success of fertility treatment reduces with age

“It’s 50-55% for women undergoing IVF under the age of 35. It drops further in the 35-40 age group. It’s 10-15% beyond 40 years. This is for IVF cases where a woman uses her own eggs. In the case of donor eggs, the live birth rate of an IVF cycle remains at 51% despite the chronological age of the woman,” says Dr Pallavi.

The age factor matters in men too and their sperm quality starts declining after 50-55 years. “If we find abnormalities in their semen earlier, that’s a different case. Male infertility is on the rise,” says Dr Nirmala.

If you can’t afford fertility treatment, eat healthy, exercise, cut down screen time, alcohol and smoking, and keep trying naturally. This applies to both men and women.

“Fertility is not a black or white area. It’s grey. The trick is to keep trying. The work-from-home lifestyle gave couples a lot of quality time and 15 of my clients were able to conceive naturally in 2020, without going for the treatments they had signed up for, previously ” says Dr Manisha.

If you are away from Bengaluru, ask your doctor to connect you with a fertility specialist near you. Carry on with teleconsultation.

(Published 27 August 2021, 17:30 IST)

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