Mumbai: Demand for IVF treatment on rise in second Covid wave

With no end to the pandemic in sight, doctors said the couples who had postponed their fertility treatment in the first wave, are now queuing up at fertility clinics
IVF treatment is a long-term process that requires multiple visits to the fertility clinic, involving scans, medications, and injections. (AP)
IVF treatment is a long-term process that requires multiple visits to the fertility clinic, involving scans, medications, and injections. (AP)
Published on Aug 17, 2021 01:04 AM IST
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ByRupsa Chakraborty, Mumbai

Fertility clinics in the city that had witnessed a temporary halt in In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments during the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic last year, saw couples starting or resuming their plan of conceiving, despite the second wave. With no end to the pandemic in sight, doctors said the couples who had postponed their fertility treatment in the first wave, are now queuing up at fertility clinics.

“We couldn’t wait any longer for the IVF treatment since we realised that Covid-19 is here to stay,” said a 38-year-old Bhandup resident, who is an engineer. She got married in 2015 at the age of 32. The couple delayed their plans to have children since her husband, now 40, who works in the Hindi film industry as an animator, had to go to Chicago for his masters in animation in 2017. When they decided to start a family after his return in 2019, she was diagnosed with abnormalities in her ovulation (the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries). Doctors suggested she undergo ovulation induction (OI) that uses hormonal therapy to stimulate egg development and release for fertility.

“In May 2019, I started my treatment. But it wasn’t helpful. So, doctors recommended intrauterine insemination (IUI),” she said. IUI is a procedure for treating infertility in which a small catheter is used to directly inject the sperm into the uterus around the time the ovary releases one or more eggs to be fertilised.

The couple was scheduled for the first procedure on April 12, 2020, however, by then Covid-19 had already hit Mumbai city. “The virus was new. Since there were so many rumours that Covid-19 could even infect the foetus, we decided to stop the procedures till the pandemic gets over,” she said. But even after a year, in March, the pandemic showed no sign of receding across the globe with the mutation of the virus.

After waiting for almost 13 months, they decided to undergo the procedure in May. To their surprise, she got pregnant on the first cycle. “There is only a 20% success rate in the first cycle for IUI procedure. After waiting for 13 months, I am finally pregnant,” she said. “Compared to the first wave, we were more confident in the second wave for fertility treatment. We were ready to take the risk,” she added.

This is not an isolated case where couples postponed their IVF treatment amid the pandemic. Data provided by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) shows that around 8,000 women underwent IVF treatment in the city in 2016, which shot up to over 12,000 in 2019. However, following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, a health official from the civic body said there was a 50% drop in the number of couples opting for IVF treatment.

“All fertility clinics were closed. Due to the national lockdown, people couldn’t travel for their regular IVF treatment and follow-up examination. Prospective parents were also scared of the possibility of the virus getting transmitted to the foetus. As a result, IVF treatment hit a roadblock,” said Dr Richa Jagtap, clinical director, consultant reproductive medicine, Nova IVF fertility, Mumbai.

IVF treatment is a long-term process that requires multiple visits to the fertility clinic, involving scans, medications, and injections. “In the beginning, there were no clear guidelines and the research on Sars-Cov-2, a new virus, was limited. So, we had to stop procedures for 1-2 months. But now, the union health ministry has issued guidelines. All IVF centres are taking all precautionary measures for the safety of the mothers and babies,” said DrJagtap.

Medical experts said couples who had put their plans to conceive a child on hold due to the Covid-19 don’t want to wait for long for IVF treatment since it’s now widely known that the virus will stay longer than anticipated.

As per the IVF clinics, they are witnessing over 200% rise in IVF cycles compared to the first wave. For instance, Indira IVF recorded only 107 IVF cycles in April last year. This year in April, they conducted 2,780 cycles.

“All patients who had postponed their IVF treatment are coming to clinics for fertility treatment. We are also getting a large number of new patients including single women who are opting for IVF treatment. Their fear about the virus has changed,” said Dr Kshitiz Murdia, chief executive officer and co-founder of Indira IVF.

Murdia added, “In the last 18 months of the pandemic, citizens have adapted to it (existence of Covid-19). They know that with proper precautionary measures, the virus can’t infect the mother or the baby.:

Dr Smita Mahale, former director, Indian Council of Medical Research- National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (ICMR-NIRRH), Parel said couples over the past year have been able to spend more time together due to lockdown triggered work-from-home life that put a stop to an hour-long daily commute to workplaces for a significant number. This, she said, has resulted in many couples wanting to have a child.

“Lifestyles of couples has changed. They are eating more at home and exercising. They are more relaxed at home in the lockdown. Couples who were having problems conceiving are also now getting pregnant naturally, without IVF intervention,” she added.

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