Doctors are getting ready to introduce a cheap in-vitro fertilization procedure across Africa, where women often are ostracized as witches or social outcasts if they cannot have children, officials said Monday.
Millions of dollars go into family planning projects and condom distribution to prevent pregnancies in Africa, but experts said that more than 30 percent of women on the continent are unable to have children. An estimated 80 million people in developing countries are infertile worldwide.
At a media briefing at the society’s annual conference in Barcelona, Ombelet [Willem Ombelet, head of a task force at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology] said that he and colleagues were deciding in which countries to test the new procedure.
A small number of women already have been treated in Khartoum, Sudan, and other projects are expected to start soon in South Africa and Tanzania.
Lower cost, but also lower success rate
The cheap version of IVF costs less than $200. Standard IVF treatments in the West cost up to $10,000.
Instead of using expensive lab equipment and medicines, experts said cheaper options could also work. For instance, rather than using an expensive incubator to create an embryo, Ombelet said that a water bath could be used in Africa.
Less expensive medicines also would effectively stimulate women’s ovaries to produce more eggs, and costs could be further cut by using cheaper needles and catheters.
But because fewer eggs would be produced by using the cheaper drugs, the success rate would also be lower. In developed countries, IVF is usually successful in about 20 percent of cases. But in Africa, Ombelet estimates it would probably be about 15 percent.
Some women labeled as witches
In Africa, where infertility is more common than in the West, women often suffer the problem after complications from unsafe deliveries, abortions or infections.
Sembuya Rita, an infertility activist from Uganda, said it was essential for public health officials to address the issue. “It’s a fundamental right for every person to have a child,” she said.
Rita said that infertile women often were economically disadvantaged as their husbands left them for other women and were cut out of family inheritances.
Experts said that even if millions of women were treated with low-cost IVF, it would only result in a one to two percent boost in the overall population.