baby

The new way of performing IVF that could dramatically reduce the cost.

For many couples all over the world who want babies but have difficulty conceiving, the high cost of IVF makes it an impractical solution.

In Australia, the cost of one cycle of IVF is approximately $10,000 upfront. Medicare or other private health insurers might reimburse a substantial portion of that cost, but even then, couples are looking at thousands of dollars per cycle of IVF.

'Looking at the range of services involved, it's not hard to see why so many couples struggle to cover the cost.' Image via iStock.

According to IVF Australia, the cost of IVF is so high because of the extent of services required, and the significant expertise of the medical, nursing, scientific and pathology staff. Looking at the range of services involved, it's not hard to see why so many couples struggle to cover the cost.

But according to a recent article in TIME, a new pioneering system, costing about $500USD per cycle ($693AUD), could be making its way around the world. The method was developed by non-profit organisation the Walking Egg at the University of Genk in Belgium, and is so simple "people didn't believe it could work," says gynaecologist Willem Ombelet. Scientists discovered that they could replicate the conditions of the uterus by using a simple mix of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate - rather than the carbon dioxide supply, incubators and sterilization systems that make the process so expensive.

While such an advancement could benefit couples all over the world, Ombelet was initially inspired to look into alternatives after seeing the social consequences of infertility in sub-Saharan Africa. Ombelet says that in countries like Ghana - "If you are childless, this is a real disaster."

"You can lose a husband, your own family doesn't want to see you anymore. It can end in depression, suicide."

In the past, the issue of infertility in developing countries has been largely neglected - with people more focused on controlling population growth that assisting couples to conceive. But the overarching aim of the Walking Egg's new method is to bring affordable IVF to the needy. At the same time, the cost of IVF will be dramatically reduced in developed countries, with women paying about one fifth of the current cost for treatments.

ADVERTISEMENT
'Scientists discovered that they could replicate the conditions of the uterus by using a simple mix of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate.' Image via iStock.

Already, 40 babies have been born in trials in Belgium using this pioneering method.

Treatment programs have recently begun in Ghana and Kenya, and are making their way to Portugal and Cyprus next year. Here, IVF will be available for as little as $150USD ($209AUD).

While there were some barriers in getting approval for the new technology in developed countries, trials will soon begin in London. Geeta Nargund, a senior consultant gynaecologist in London, told TIME that encouraging change has been a struggle.

"It's like the saying by Mahatma Gandhi - people will first laugh at you, then they obstruct you, and eventually they'll join you when they know that is the right thing."

She says: "It's absolutely essential that we make fertility treatments accessible to all, in the interests of promoting social equality."

Surely, it's only a matter of time before they make it to Australia.

00:00 / ???