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There's an awful lot of money being made through infertility...

Not everyone conceives easily. In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is huge business worldwide, but what kind of future has it in Ireland?

4273715808_c7f8577786_o Source: Bridget Coila

WHEN IT COMES to starting a family, not every couple has things easy.

There are all manner of health reasons why a two people can have trouble conceiving, and then there are couples who struggle for no particular reason at all, but regardless of the reasons, studies show one in six couples will experience fertility problems.

In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is one of the most popular solutions to conception problems.

The process, which basically involves a woman’s egg being directly fertilised outside the womb before being reimplanted inside her, does not come cheap however.

Standard rates for a round of the treatment amount to about €5,000 in Ireland (depending on the treatment type), and the high price is no guarantee of success (only about 20-30% of treatments lead to conception – which in itself is a vast improvement on say 20 years ago).

Even this pales in comparison to America where the average price of a cycle of treatment is closer to €15,000, while globally the figure can average up to €33,000.

Irrespective of that, the fertility industry is a truly booming one.

Britain Cheap IVF An technician working with embryos at a fertility clinic in London Source: AP/Press Association Images

Worldwide, the industry was worth €8.5 billion in 2012, a figure set to rise to a massive€19.7 billion by 2020.

So why is the rate of increase so staggering? Surely people have always wanted to have children? As you might expect, several factors contribute.

Times are changing, and on average women across the globe are taking a lot longer to get around to having kids – and the later it’s left the harder it can be for some people to conceive (the early to mid twenties being generally a woman’s period of peak fertility).

The average age for a first-time-mother in the US is now 26, from 22 in the early 1990s. Given the average age of women getting married in Ireland at present is 32.6 years the disparity is clear.

There is also far greater disposable income among couples in western developed countries in recent times, together with an increased infertility rate due to modern lifestyles and stress levels. Similarly, health insurance is far more prevalent in Ireland than in times previous.

price comparisons Average cost of IVF cycle by country Source: OMICS International

Add to that the fact the technology behind IVF is more refined now than ever before – the ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) cycle for example now offers opportunities for men with low sperm counts to conceive. Twenty years ago such men couldn’t be helped. Now they can.

So, it’s an industry with huge growth potential. Already in America assisted reproduction levels are outstripping the national rate for natural births

IVF treatment clinics saw revenue of €1.8 billion in the US last year, while estimates suggest that UK clinics are now worth something close to €800 million each year.

There’s also huge growth being seen in less-developed countries, such as India, one of the few countries worldwide where women are allowed to make money from surrogacy, although this highlights some of the ethical conflicts that have dogged IVF for years.

Ireland is no stranger to the boom affecting assisted reproduction, albeit with only nine clinics operating nationwide (six of which are in or in the environs of Dublin). Exact revenue figures are unavailable for the Irish market, although the level of international interest in the industry here is growing.

As recently as last December, Dublin’s Rotunda maternity hospital sold off its IVF facility (which had struggled financially through the depths of the recession) to Australian company Virtus Health for €6 million. Virtus already hold a majority shareholding in Dublin’s other main IVF centre, the SIMS clinic in Dundrum.

Mary Roche loses legal battle SIMS clinic, Dundrum Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Bonnie Maher, psychotherapist with Rotund-IVF clinic at the Rotunda, told TheJournal.ie that the increased popularity of IVF is as much to do with people being more open to the process as anything.

“It’s certainly not the cost, because that just keeps going up,” says Maher.

The success rate and science is improving all the time and that definitely helps.
But more empirically, you have more people with health insurance, and the ethical issues with IVF are not as big a stumbling block as they were.
With the technology evolving, success rates in Ireland can be as much as 50% which is as ringing an endorsement as the IVF process needs really.
Deputy Medical Director with SIMS John Kennedy says that Irish IVF represents great value for money, particularly given the popularity of ‘reproductive tourism’ worldwide.
“There are clinics in England charging as much as €25,000 for IVF cycles, and they’ll get it because their reputation and success rates are excellent,” he told TheJournal.ie.
What’s being charged in Ireland for a comparable service is so reasonable, and with success rates climbing all the time, and people simply being more enlightened, the future is very strong for the industry.
Kennedy doesn’t think that there’s much likelihood of a slew of private clinics popping up around Ireland though.
I think the market is at saturation here to be honest. With a process that requires so much trust, there’s only room for so many clinics to operate in close proximity to each other.

It’s not all plain sailing for IVF here though – the Child and Family Relationship Bill which became law here on 24 March has criminalised the use of anonymous donations, meaning that all egg and sperm donors must be identifiable.

This saw the SIMS clinic suspend therapy for more than one thousand patients who had already started IVF treatment using anonymous eggs or sperm.

“We didn’t think it fair to be recruiting patients for a procedure that’s going to be illegal,” Dr. David Walsh, a medical director with the clinic, told TheJournal.ie at the time.

The bill has been signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins on 6 April, although the legislation has yet to come into force.

This month, as part of TheJournal.ie’s ongoing startup and small and medium enterprise (SME) focus, we are looking at the parenting industry.

To view other stories from our collection, click here.

Read: Treatment suspended for hundreds of IVF couples over new laws

Read: Three-person babies could be born as early as next year

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