Furore over IVF babies in Nigeria
*Bridge Clinics reducing childlessness among couples despite constraints
Despite ongoing concerns on the future health of children born through Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ARTs) such as In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), more infertile couples are leveraging on the fertility treatment to have children.
Many studies carried out on the health implication of IVF revealed that children born through assisted reproductive technology might be at increased risk for high blood pressure as adolescents.
Also, a recent study suggests that a slight difference in the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material expression of people born via IVF could put them at a higher risk for conditions like cancer or diabetes in life while another study has associated the fertility procedure with a higher risk of intellectual disability in children among other problems.
Meanwhile, the high incidence of infertility among couples of reproductive age has made many seek different forms of fertility treatment in order to have children.
As part of an effort to achieve a high rate of success and positive health outcomes in IVF treatment in Nigeria, the Bridge Fertility Clinic was established 20 years ago to ensure the rate of infertility was reduced to the barest minimum in the country.
According to statistics, the prevalence of infertility in married couples in Nigeria is about 20-25 percent, with studies showing that the numbers could be higher.
Further statistics have also shown a rise in the success rate of live births through improved IVF treatment recorded in Nigeria, with fewer complications and less negative health outcomes. Also, Alexander Forbes auditing firm estimates that over 2,550 live births have been recorded at the Bridge Clinic, a fertility center in Nigeria, from 1999 till date. That is, one baby in every three days, while the recent record has shown an improvement with an average of one baby born every 41 hours.
This, the fertility clinic said, has been a milestone recorded, considering the risk factors surrounding the IVF practice and the challenges presented by couples.
Consultant Gynaecologist, at the Bridge Clinic, Dr. Ogunniran Babatunde, said over time, the success rate of IVF has improved globally, going by the rate of 35 percent, which means three out of 10 women will actually get pregnant through IVF. He said with recent innovations and technology, the story of infertility in Nigeria, which is the inability of a couple to achieve conception after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse, has changed, as the fertility clinic records an improved success rate of about 52 percent live births in the country.
According to Babatunde, the findings that revealed children born through IVF suffer from one form of health condition as they progress in age is as a result of very poor and low semen parameters aw well as age factor, which could result in genetic abnormalities. He maintained that all IVF babies are absolutely normal as those born through natural means, while he advised couples to ensure improved lifestyle modification, which affects reproductive outcomes, noting that during the analysis of samples or random parameters of semen, a lot of men are having low sperm count and poor motility.
Another factor, the Medical Director, Dr. Toyin Ajayi noted was as a result of poor quality in IVF treatment, noting that the Bridge clinic abides by its core values, which are ethical, honesty, innovation and excellence in service delivery to patients.
She said the clinic, with its IVF services in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, has helped many new families become parents of twins, quadruplets and single, with a team of consultant gynecologists, medical officers and nurses, supported by a skilled team of embryologists at its advanced IVF laboratory, also with foreign partnership.
The gynecologist said, though, there are no strict regulations as regards IVF in Nigeria, the clinic adheres to ethical practices in its treatment guidelines for couples to match up with international standards.
Ajayi said the clinic, through a partnership with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), also provides fertility care to indigent couples at the Institute of Fertility Medicine (IFM), an initiative that provides affordable fees with specialist care.
Ajayi noted that as part of efforts to make achieve optimum results infertility, the clinic acquired the Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) machine, through which likely failed pregnancies have become babies.
Other feet the clinic achieved, she said to include, the first conception and birth from surgically collected sperm in Nigeria, first conception and birth through IVF surrogacy in Nigeria, first conception and birth through the Transport IVF program in Nigeria and first conception and birth from Oocyte freezing in Nigeria.
The medical director noted that apart from the quality services rendered by its medical professionals, the clinic has also helped in reducing brain drain and medical tourism as its medical doctors and nurses are all Nigerians.“Currently, all our staff is Nigerians because we have a pool of talents in Nigeria. Every staff goes through our training session where we really embed in them the Bridge culture; we ensure they align with our values and standards. Bridge clinic helps to reduce medical tourism in Nigeria, we offer services that are achievable abroad,” she said.
She said one of the most important processes in IVF is managing patients emotionally, which is what the clinic does as all the processes in the treatment could be stressful and painful. “Patient emotional management is part of what we do, we have in house counselors, we give them the information they need.
In our treatment plan, every patient is offered counseling sessions, there are sometimes when the clients may not want to divulge some things to the doctor, so they disclose it to the counselor. All our nurses work with our doctor and they help our client go through the whole treatment process, which could be stressful and painful,” she stressed.
She continued: “When the IVF process fails, we invite them for a consultation with the doctor, during which we also go through the treatment that was done; the whole stages and try to see if we could see certain things that caused the failure. We have a chat with them where they express themselves, ask them questions and make plans when they can come back for another cycle.”
On the risk of quacks in IVF procedures, Ajayi said “going to someone who is not qualified to do IVF for a woman is severe damage to her because there is a process that she has to go through in stimulating her to produce eggs within three months. We now extract those eggs, which is a process you have to be trained to do. We then put it into the woman.
“In stimulating women if you give them too much of the medicines that stimulate those eggs you will over-stimulate and the person’s condition will be severe. These are really serious things and it is important that people must be treated in a qualified clinic where they can trust the doctors and nurses that are trained to give quality and ethical standard of treatment.”
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