Infertility Treatment in Poor Countries

Posted On August 27th, 2009

(Article in New Scientist: “Cheap IVF offers hope to childless millions”)

Despite the public perception that Africa is overpopulated, the majority of infertile couples reside in Third World countries, especially in Africa. The causes of infertility in Africa are much different from those in Europe and the US. In my experience, Western couples seek IVF and egg donation because of premature ovarian failure, polycystic ovarian syndrome, reproductive organs damaged by cancer, or unexplained infertility, either primary or secondary. In Africa, it is caused mainly by epidemic, untreated sexually transmitted disease and infection. Furthermore, there are horrific conditions unimaginable in the West, such as early teenage intercourse and pregnancy that leads to vaginal fistula or other complications, infections from genital mutilation, and the severe social ostracism associated with these genital diseases and infertility.

So low-cost ART (assisted reproductive technology) in Africa is controversial, since it treats a symptom, rather than a cause. But efforts to find low cost methods of treatment have created some ingenious, low-tech methods. One is the INVOcell, a capsule that uses the intended mother as an embryo incubator, rather than a costly mechanical incubator that requires electricity. The most typical treatments are less invasive (such as IUIs) that avoid costly IVF, although the success rates are lower than those in developed countries.

There are programs that raise money for equipment and training for these clinics: see the site for the Low Cost IVF Foundation.


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