Shahid Akhter, editor, ETHealthworld, spoke to Dheeraj Jain, Founder, Crysta IVF, to know more about the current trends in IVF, following the pandemic that witnessed a shift in people’s outlook towards IVF.
How has the pandemic impacted the IVF industry
The COVID-19 pandemic has had adverse effects on couples trying to conceive globally. Many would-be parents or people who were planning to achieve parenthood through In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) experienced emotional distress as a result of this undercurrent of uncertainty. Even though some clinics have reopened and the situation is gradually improving, the Indian IVF industry may feel the effects of COVID-19 long even after the virus has passed. Industry experts believe that people’s outlook towards IVF, its safety during the pandemic and affordability of the treatment are some of the major challenges for the sector. TTC women and couples have shown concern about the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine on fertility treatments and pregnancy after it was introduced. People had varied questions and doubts like- is it safe to conceive during COVID-19, can COVID-19 affect fertility in men and women, is it safe to continue prenatal check-ups, if I have COVID-19 will I pass it to my baby, can someone be nearby when I give birth, etc.The dilemma of providing fertility treatments and services to the patients in this pandemic has been global.
Challenges and opportunities that have emerged?
In India, the cost of an IVF procedure ranges from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh. For many couples considering this procedure, the cost can be a deterrent. It is necessary to move fertility treatment from the “out of pocket” to the “insured” category. Physical and medical risks can be managed by experts; however, insurers can significantly reduce financial risks. Because insurance companies primarily cover illness and diseases that require hospitalization, providing mediclaim for fertility treatments is difficult. Fertility treatments are for issues relating to pregnancy or pregnancy-related issues, which are not illnesses. Only maternity is covered by health insurance; fertility treatment is not. Insurance companies only cover specific diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, not the total cost of the procedure. The majority of the aftermath is usually covered by insurance, but not the planning.
As the IVF industry is on the growth trajectory due to acceptability among people and high success rates, there are many new opportunities ahead-using mobile software, video conferencing, and expanded telemedicine, provide contactless or contact-free services; with the rise of contactless or contact-free services, terms like untact (i.e., no contact), ontact (i.e., contact through online media), intact (i.e., interactive contact: no face-to-face communication), and digitact have been circulating in the service and marketing fields (i.e., digital contact or digital face-to-face); for increased productivity and administrative agility, many clinics and healthcare providers have actively pursued advancements in contactless services and operational processes; future advances in healthcare resource management are expected to rely heavily on creative uses of new technologies and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is the contribution of IVF centres in the overall medical infrastructure of the country?
IVF chains/centres are trying to ensure patient safety by implementing contactless services in different areas that have traditionally offered face-to-face services even during the pandemic, like hospital entrance procedures and reception/payment counters for outpatients/examinations. Minimizing the chance of infection within the hospital while enhancing user convenience for both medical staff and patients is what the IVF industry is working towards.
How do you see the future of IVF in the country?
The world’s first ‘test tube baby’, Louise Brown was born 40 years ago and since then 6 million babies have been conceived worldwide through assisted techniques. In India, what hampers the growth of the IVF industry is the absence of regulations and an organized structure.
The country has reportedly around 30 million couples struggling with lifetime infertility. Only 1 percent of these adopt ART procedures due to lack of awareness, treatment transparency and mostly affordability. With the availability of over 1750 IVF clinics and hospitals, India does an average of 250,000 cycles a year. However, in order to meet the actual demand, the country needs to perform approximately 6, 00,000 cycles. This creates a huge opportunity for the growth of the industry. The Indian IVF industry is a potential USD 1.2 billion market that is expanding at a steady CAGR of 20 per cent Year on Year (YoY) from current numbers. What needs to be done on priority is that the stigma about infertility needs to be addressed. This will help various couples who want to seek infertility treatment but are hesitant due to social pressures to come forward and adopt IVF procedures.