THE Hugh Wynter Fertility Management Unit (HWFMU) at The University of the West Indies is urging employers, insurers and financial institutions to respond to the growing levels of infertility by providing options and policies to enable young women to better plan their fertility.
Dr Shaun Wynter, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the HWFMU, told doctors and representatives from banks and insurance companies last Wednesday that infertility is not exclusive to people with money.
“Most of our clients are pretty ordinary people. Most couples in their early 30s just bought their houses, and now it's time for a baby and it's not happening. They don't have any disposable income to put towards this, so it becomes an issue.”
Acting on behalf of Dr Vernon DaCosta, director of the unit, Dr Wynter proposed that stakeholders in Jamaica place more emphasis on fertility planning for young women, as an integral part of family planning.
The 'all-inclusive' cost of one round of in vitro fertilisation at the HWFMU is US $7,500, a cost which they say is the best regionally, but is too high for young women who are focused on achieving other life goals. However, the older they become, the lower the quality of their eggs will be. As such, the unit is encouraging banks to offer loans for young women to store away some eggs in case they need them in the future, and health insurance providers to come up with policies to afford 'fertility planning' to their customers.
Dr Vincent Payet, general manager of Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a multinational supplier of fertility drugs, agreed that Jamaica needs to start investing in the fertility of its population to ensure sustainability, citing growing levels of infertility globally.
“Almost 12 per cent of women in Jamaica are having difficulty when trying to have their second child,” he said. “Women are getting more involved, women want to study, women want to have jobs, and it's taking time. Unfortunately, your body clock is not following the same rules. It has not moved. It's even worse in some countries like the United States (US), we see that menstruation is starting earlier. [This means that] it will end earlier also,” Dr Payet said.
“Indeed our population rate has come down over the decades. At this point, we are close to replacement levels, about 2.27 [children per woman],” Dr Wynter said. “The birth rate after independence in the 1960s was five children per woman, so internationally the aim was to bring the birth rate down to replacement levels, which would be two babies [per woman].”
Dr Payet highlighted that with the services offered by the HWFMU, Jamaica is well positioned to benefit from fertility-based medical tourism.
“If you look at your close network, which is the US, keep in mind that the potential is close to one million people with some needs of assisted fertility treatment,” he said. “You have the tools, you have the place, you are a nice island, and there is a need outside. Infertility is definitely a big issue. Unfortunately 25 per cent of couples in the world are affected by infertility. ”
He noted, however, that in order to reap maximum results from medical tourism, the country would need to improve its sperm reserve.
“First, if we start thinking that women will [require] donor sperm, what we have to raise to a good level is the quality of sperm and the bank of sperm that we have in Jamaica. So raising the standard, having a high calibre of sperm, means that they will be able to ask,” he said.