Fertility Treatment in South Africa
An Update From Dr Rodrigues
Medfem’s Dr Antonio Rodrigues was recently interviewed by eNCA about the demand for fertility treatments in South Africa, and the impact of COVID-19 on fertility treatments at Medfem Fertility Clinic.
At Medfem, ongoing and new patients have continued their treatments as COVID-19 regulations have allowed. During the initial Stage 5 lockdown in April 2020, only essential treatments continued. But when Stage 4 lockdown come into effect on 1 May 2020 in South Africa, Medfem resumed full fertility management. The availability of fertility treatments during lockdown was a great relief to many patients, as time is often of the essence in fertility treatments.
A slight dip numbers of new patients at Medfem does reflect the fact that international patients, who come from all over the world to receive top-class fertility treatments at Medfem, cannot currently travel to South Africa, as well as a concern among South Africans about exposure to COVID-19 at clinics and medical facilities.
Fortunately, as an independent clinic, accredited with the Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy (SASREG), and one of South Africa’s top medical facilities, Medfem is at the forefront of implementing stringent Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and maximum quality control for all our clinical processes.
Building on already solid and entrenched safety and quality procedures, we have incorporated additional health and safety precautions relating to Covid-19 quickly and effectively into a new patient management protocol, designed to protect the health and safety of our patients and staff alike.
Fertility Consultations during Covid-19
Your safety is very important to us.
At Medfem, to ensure our patients and staff remain safe, we have implemented stringent patient management protocols taking into consideration the recommendations regarding fertility treatments globally, the local COVID-19 legislation and regulations as well as SASREG’s Covid-19 patient management guidelines.
1. Minimising the amount of time patients spend at Medfem through the use of technology.
2. Enforcing strict safety rules to safeguard our patients and staff from exposure to the virus at the clinic.
In this way, we ensure that you only visit us if essential, and that when you do, you are as safe as possible.
Continued increase in demand for fertility treatments
Despite the shorter-term impact of COVID-19 on the number of couples seeking fertility treatment in South Africa, the longer-term trend remains evident: growing numbers of South African couples are requiring fertility treatment.
Dr Rodrigues noted that there is no question that, in general, increasing numbers of South African couples are facing challenges in having children. In fact, an estimated one in every six couples are facing fertility challenges.
Dr Rodrigues explained some of the reasons and possible causes why infertility is becoming a challenge for so many South African couples.
Beyond the couples who have a medical condition, such as tubal disease or blocks in the testes related to infection, a large group of couples seeking fertility treatment are dealing with lifestyle diseases, notably high insulin levels, thyroid problems, endometriosis, PCOS and auto-immune disease. These diseases are driven by lifestyle choices around diet, exercise, stress, smoking and alcohol consumption.
Diet plays a critical role. Dr Rodrigues explains that whether a patient is overweight or not, excessive carbs in the diet is problematic. High insulin levels in both men and women, as well as hypertension caused by high insulin levels, is aggressively treated at Medfem, while patients are guided to manage their diets and their lifestyle choices.
Another important factor in infertility is stress. For 21 years, Medfem has also been at the forefront of researching and managing the impact of stress on fertility. Not only does stress inhibit the ability to conceive, but infertility itself compounds an individual or couple’s stress levels. Recent literature and medical studies have shown that the reduction of stress can account for higher pregnancy rates.
Age is also a very pertinent factor in the growing numbers of couples seeking fertility treatments – many couples are postponing starting a family until much later in life.
It is a known fact that women experience a decline in reproductive capacity with increasing age as their egg number and quality diminishes. The likelihood of conceiving in any given month of trying peaks at around age 30 and gradually decreases as women age. There is an accelerated decline after age 35 and an even more rapid decline after age 40.
As women age and come closer to menopause, their ovaries respond less well to the hormones responsible for helping the eggs ovulate. Research has found that in any given month your chances of getting pregnant are about 25% at age 20 – 35; about 18% at age 35 – 39; and just 5% after 40.
This has also given rise to an increase in demand for fertility preservation, which includes options such as egg freezing and sperm freezing. You can read more about these fertility preservation options here…
When should you act?
So, how soon should you be concerned about your fertility and how can you establish if your fertility is in order?
Dr Rodrigues suggests that sooner is always better, especially if you have a specific reason for concern, such as irregular cycles, pain during periods or if you have suffered an injury or disease that could affect your fertility.
To find out if there is a problem, women can start by requesting their gynaecologist to scan their ovaries and to do an Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) test that gives an indication of how many eggs are in reserve. For men, a semen analysis is required.
There is also a long list of possible medical causes of infertility. If you are concerned about your fertility, the best course of action is to immediately contact a fertility specialist who will be able to identify the exact cause of your fertility problem and provide expert information regarding available treatment options.
Managing the emotional impact
Infertility can be a difficult emotional journey. Many couples feel stigmatised, and unable to share their experience with family or friends. In addition, the physical demands and emotional ups and downs of the infertility experience can impact life at home, at work and with family. Even with the best intentions, you and your partner might need support from an outside source to help you overcome the challenges and hurdles that may arise during the course of your fertility treatment.
For this reason, counselling and support is part of the fertility treatment package at Medfem. The overall well-being of our patients is a crucial aspect of fertility treatment, and we encourage our patients to take advantage of the many resources we have developed to address the emotional needs they may have as a part of their journey.
If you are concerned about your fertility, we invite you to a 30 – 60 minute initial consultation with one of our fertility specialists at Medfem. Simply click here or contact us on +27 (11) 463 2244 to book your initial consultation.
We look forward to meeting you!