Within the world of medical tourism, fertility travel – travel for IVF treatment – is a market niche that receives too little attention. When the world recovers from COVID-19, it’s likely to become one of the fastest growing sectors of medical tourism. (Book a ticket now for just £75 for LaingBuisson’s Fertility Forum 2021, taking place online on 3rd November 2021.)
IVF travel is a complex market, driven by a variety of interrelated factors.
IVF isn’t cheap. In some developed countries, couples can expect to pay upwards of US$10,000 for one cycle of treatment and US$20,000 if egg donation is required. So, countries that can offer savings of 50% or more per cycle will prove attractive.
- Access to treatment
Different countries have different rules on who can receive IVT treatment funded through their public health system. There may also be restrictions on supply. In the UK for example, women aged under 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS. However, this may often depend on where they live and the availability of funding in their region.
- Legal constraints
In some countries, the law restricts who can be offered fertility treatment. For many years, in France, only heterosexual couples had the right to access IVF. Lesbian couples and single women who wanted children had to travel abroad for IVF using donor sperm, often across the border into Spain. In June 2021, the French government adopted a bill giving lesbian couples and single women access to fertility treatment for the first time. However, surrogacy will remain illegal in France, prompting some couples to continue to seek a solution abroad.
- Donor anonymity
In some countries, such as the UK, donor anonymity is no longer supported, whereas anonymity is guaranteed in law for donors in Greece.
- Sex selection and genetic screening
Whereas many countries legislate against sex selection, there are those like the UAE where the rules are relaxed allowing a couple to influence the outcome of their treatment. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has become more sophisticated in screening for genetic diseases. The techniques used and the expertise available may influence the choice of destination for a couple.
- Improving the chance of success
Comparing success rates within their domestic market may be challenging for a couple seeking IVF, if there isn’t a national body defining measures of success and collecting comparative data. Comparing success rates within the international market is even more of a challenge with clinics competing to claim the best chance of a positive outcome. Nevertheless, claimed success rates will be a major influence on couples who are seeking a return on their IVF “investment”.
- Shortage of donors
Some countries are unable to meet demand for IVF, whether it is publicly or privately funded, due a shortage of donor sperm or donor eggs. Patients travel abroad to solve the problem
Four COVID-19 factors that may drive growth in fertility travel
Here are the factors that will provide an impetus for fertility travel, once we return to a near-normal (whenever that maybe!) and people can travel from Country A to Country B:
- Pent up demand
COVID-19 has been the focus of attention by health systems around the globe. Hospitals, staff and resources have been diverted to meet the challenges of the pandemic. What are seen as routine or non-urgent procedures have been put on the back burner. In some badly affected healthcare systems, IVF clinics have been forced to close down for extended periods or to operate under severe restrictions. With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, there will be a surge of pent-up demand for treatment; many domestic healthcare systems will be unable to meet that demand and waiting lists will drive patients to seek treatment abroad.
- Lack of donor eggs and sperm
A side-effect of COVID-19 has been the impact on sperm and egg donation. Sweden has always struggled to provide the quantity of donor eggs and sperm needed to support the demand for IVF. Health professionals in Sweden are now sounding the alarm over concerns of a sperm donation shortage spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic. Some Swedish clinics now have a waiting list of two years.
- Couples may now have the money to pay
For some couples, the main barrier to domestic or international treatment has been the cost. They just couldn’t afford it. However, the impact of lockdowns has meant a decrease in spending and an increase in savings for some. Middle and high income couples in the UK for example have seen their savings increase significantly due to lockdown.
- The age factor
The older you are, the harder it is to conceive. What has been close to a two year interregnum in the availability of fertility treatment will mean that some couples are approaching the critical age for conception, or are exceeding their country’s age limit for publicly funded IVF.
Save the date for the Fertility Forum 2021
We will be discussing the future of fertility travel, post-COVID, at LaingBuisson’s Fertility Forum 2021 taking place online on 3rd November 2021. Take advantage of the Early Bird Discount and book a ticket now for just £75 plus VAT.