Travel with a purpose
Despite the obvious pause caused by Covid-19, travel in general has begun to bounce back to near pre-pandemic levels. Nowhere is this more evident than the quest for travel with a purpose. This article examines a specific form of travel with a purpose, fertility tourism.
What is Fertility Tourism?
Fertility tourism refers to people travelling to help with medical needs rather than to seek it in their home country. The reasons for travel are numerous and include waiting list time, access to specific treatments, such as egg donation, cost and success rates. One thing is certain, more people are travelling and are prepared to travel long distances.
How popular is Fertility Tourism?
Fertility tourism is a term which developed after the birth of the first IVF baby in Britain over forty years ago. Treatment providers offered help to domestic and international patients. Now, you will find fertility clinics in any developed country offering a dedicated service to patients living outside its borders.
In the U.K., the fertility market has undergone major changes. A number of medium and large groups have grown their own clinics and invested in others. Over 60% of all clinics regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) are now owned by groups. Despite an increase in the number of large clinic groups in the U.K. there is still an apparent gap between demand and supply. This is evident when it comes to specific types of treatment.
Those patients seeking donor treatments are most likely to look abroad in the first instance. Research was carried out by the International Fertility Company (IFC) in 2020. It suggested that over half the people that travel from the U.K. do so to access egg, sperm or embryo donor treatments. Supply is one of the major drivers for travel. Patients highlighted a lack of donor availability and high costs as being reasons for fertility tourism. It is not surprising therefore that the numbers travelling in search of donor treatment continues to rise.
Donor International and Fertility Tourism
Donor International has been set up to help patients access donor treatment. Matching availability with need, its online platform showcases donor treatment options in different countries. Founder and Chief Executive of Donor International Eddie Kuan explains,
“Our ‘One-Stop’ platform gives Individuals and Couples access to over 170 centres worldwide and thousands of donors”
In 2005 the U.K. changed its law relating to egg, sperm and embryo donors. Any baby born as a result from 2005 onwards would, at the age of 18, be able to find out who their donor was. Whilst this change was welcomed by many, others wish to keep donor information anonymous. U.K. patients seeking anonymous donors therefore need to travel to countries in which this remains legally possibly.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created an NHS backlog in the U.K.. According to the latest NHS figures over 7 million people were on the waiting list for treatment in England alone. An additional 400,000 had been waiting over a year. NHS waiting lists are forcing patients into the private sector. The Private Healthcare Information Network says the number self-paying patients accessing private care has risen by over a third since 2020.
NHS Funding for Fertility Treatment
NHS funding for fertility treatment varies considerably across the UK. It ranging from 62% of cycles funded by NHS Scotland to less than 20% in some parts of England. The level of funded treatments is decreasing across the U.K. with only a third of all cycles now being funded.
It is very likely that the numbers of private patients will continue to rise. Andrew Coutts, a specialist in cross border reproduction has been working with patients for over ten years,
“Although we don’t know specific numbers it is evident that patient travllers is increasing. The Office for National Statistics has estimated that just under 250,000 UK residents went abroad in 2019 just prior to the pandemic. I can see no reason why this figure will not continue to rise year on year”.
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