S’pore couples get help to pay for tests to cut risk of passing on genetic diseases in IVF

SINGAPORE – From July 1, Singaporean couples who wish to conceive but are worried about passing on serious inheritable diseases to their child will receive government funding support of up to 75 per cent to test for known genetic disorders in embryos in the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) process.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Thursday (June 30) that the funding is for two types of pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT), which are done on embryos created via IVF and would reduce the risk of genetic diseases being passed on.

The first type of test, known as PGT-M, screens for common and rare disorders, such as the blood disorder beta thalassemia and spinal muscular atrophy.

The second type of test, PGT-SR, checks for chromosomal structural abnormalities, which may manifest themselves in developmental delays or learning disabilities in conditions such as Down syndrome.

The tests cost about $11,000 to $31,000 each, with that for rare disorders costing the most as it involves more preparatory work. The funding covers the tests and the embryo biopsy done by an assisted reproduction centre.

For instance, a Singaporean couple can get funding of up to $17,100 for the PGT process for common disorders and up to $31,420 for the process to test for rare disorders.

On average, 40 to 50 couples a year are expected to benefit from the scheme, said Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, at a doorstop interview in National University Hospital (NUH), where she was visiting to find out more about fertility treatment processes and to announce the details of the funding scheme.

“We have been looking at a whole raft of measures to support families… this is a specific part… Think of the couple who give birth to a child who has inherited diseases or defects. They go through a lot, and there’s the costs, it’s emotional, and the difficulty. So, the question is whether you can help to circumvent this,” she said. 

“The key indicator for PGT is if you or your family member has some kind of genetic defect or mutation, or you could be a carrier… Then you would want to test and make sure.. that you will have a healthy child,” she added.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health, who was also at the same event, said the funding support is part of the Government’s larger effort  to support couples who wish to conceive.

“These are the things that would perhaps encourage parents as well as those who want to try for a second child,” she said.