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Fall in fertility rates spurs IVF market in UAE.

Summary: In almost 50 per cent of the cases, male infertility is the reason for couples to seek fertility treatment.

Asma Ali Zain

IVF is not only sought after locally, but it is one of the leading treatments undertaken by medical tourists in the UAE.

Fertility rates in the UAE have fallen by 160 per cent from 1960 to 2017, while the demand for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) has gone up considerably, according to a new report.

In almost 50 per cent of the cases, male infertility is the reason for couples to seek fertility treatment.

Increased literacy rates and increase in female labour force participation were also cited among the reasons for the falling fertility rates, according to the latest research by Colliers International.

The figures, published in a new report titled 'In Vitro Fertilization and Fertility in the Mena region', revealed that compared to 10 per cent worldwide, infertility in the region is 15 per cent or higher.

Male infertility was found to be a growing problem occurring in approximately 50 per cent of the cases in the GCC and Middle East, due to lifestyle, diabetes, obesity and genetic-related factors. Countries in the GCC have one of the highest diabetic and obesity rates in the world.

In the UAE, the fertility rate (birth per woman) in 1960 was 4.5. It dropped to 1.7 in 2016, registering a decrease of 160 per cent, which is among the highest in the region. Oman had 7.2 births per woman in 1960 which dropped to 2.7 in 2016 with also a decrease of 160 per cent.

The report also shows that the current global IVF market is estimated to be between $10 billion and $12 billion, while the current IVF market size for the Middle East and North Africa is approximately $1 billion, indicating a high demand for IVF and related treatments in the region.

The UAE has more than 90 per cent literacy rate. Increased literacy rates directly result in delay in marriage age and a significant decrease in adolescent fertility rates, as per the report.

Based on the latest data available from the International Labour Organisation, the overall female labour force participation rate in the UAE increased from 32 per cent to 42 per cent. Female participation in workforce, along with an aspiration for economic freedom, has a direct impact on marriage age.

Published as part of the Medlab Market Report series ahead of Medlab 2019, set to take place from February 4 to 7 at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the report shows that overall fertility rates have decreased from seven children per women in 1960 to just three in 2017.

Mansoor Ahmed, director for healthcare and education for Mena region at Colliers International, said: "IVF is not only sought after locally, but it is one of the leading treatments undertaken by medical tourists in the UAE, especially in Dubai." New innovations and improved testing techniques are gradually creating paradigm shifts in the field of assisted reproductive technology.

Prakash Janardan, director for IVF operations, NMC Healthcare, said the field of reproductive technology is rapidly progressing with many medical advancements, leading to improved IVF outcomes. "The development in embryo culture medium and emergence of innovative technologies, such as embryonic genetic testing, detection of genetic diseases before transfer of embryos, oocyte preservation and next-generation sequencing platforms, are all gradually creating paradigm shifts in the field of assisted reproductive technology," he said.

Hoda Abou-Jamra, CEO of Bourn Hall International Group, said there are a number of factors that support the growth of the fertility market in the coming years.

"On one hand, natural fertility rates are trending downward and many couples are waiting longer to start having families, and, on the other hand, the incidence of non-communicable diseases attributed to lifestyle factors is on the rise reducing the fertility of both partners. Hence, there is a real emphasis to focus on clinics that deliver high quality and standards that provide strong outcomes," she said.

"The UAE's fertility market has reached a saturation stage. Currently, there are a large number of players in the market. Moreover, due to the economic slowdown, the disposable income of people is decreasing and this could have an impact on expending money on IVF treatment, especially for the second child," Abou-Jamra added.

The fertility market, in the next five to 10 years, is expected to change significantly. The IVF treatment is not only expected to be used for infertile patients but also for fertility preservation for women, similar to Western markets, said Dr Braulio Peramo, medical director at Al Ain Fertility Centre.

"We are already starting to have cases for fertility preservation in the UAE, too. In the coming years, most couples will check the embryos not only for chromosome diseases, but for monogenic diseases as well, thus having a positive impact on the fertility industry in the UAE," he said.

IVF treatment in the UAE

The top nationalities that seek IVF treatment in the UAE are Emiratis, GCC nationals and expatriates living in the UAE from the sub-continent and Africa. Lately, some patients are also coming from China.

IVF treatment is one of the leading treatments sought by medical tourists in the UAE, especially in Dubai. Medical tourism accounts for 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the IVF patient volumes. Success rates in the country are quite high compared to other parts of the world. In addition, a few patients also come for gender selection, as the UAE is one of the few countries where gender selection is still permitted.

Approximately 15 per cent to 30 per cent of parents opt for IVF treatment to have their second child, while 10-15 per cent return to IVF centres to have another successful treatment cycle to conceive their second child. In over 50 per cent of cases, male infertility is the reason for seeking IVF treatment. The factors contributing to male infertility include lifestyle, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and genetics.

The average cost of an IVF treatment ranges between Dh20,000 to Dh30,000, but it may vary depending on the type of treatment recommended for each patient

The key challenge is restrictions on embryo freezing which results in repeat cycles of full treatment, increasing patients' costs and morbidity.

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Jan 10, 2019
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