Sunday, 10 October, 2010

In-vitro fertilization (IVF) for the poor

British scientist Robert Edwards won a Nobel Prize for helping develop in-vitro fertilization. Now, scientists are bringing the technology to the developing world.In-vitro fertilization is a fairly common method of aiding conception. But it's expensive, and only a small percentage of people around the world can afford it. Dr. Ian Cooke, one of the founders of the Low Cost IVF Foundation, wants to change that. His organization is trying to lower the cost of IVF treatment, to make it accessible to the poorest areas in the world.

"There's a huge need in many, many parts of the world," Cooke told us, including in parts of the world concerned about overpopulation. Infertility "leads to social isolation, physical and emotional abuse and ostracism and indeed suicide," Cooke says. The problem is also more widespread in the developing world. And in many parts of the world, according to Cooke, "particularly in rural areas such as Bangladesh, this leads to increasing poverty because husbands will not let wives who are not fertile work. And so they're even further diminished."

In the United Kingdom, IVF costs about $5,000, and it can be much higher in the United States. "We think that the technical side of it without the staff cost could be done for as little as $200," Cooke told The World. The organization would use cheap drugs and simpler incubation programs. "And because you have the intention of only transferring a single embryo instead of larger numbers," Cooke says, "laboratory costs are kept lower."

The organization has already started work in Tanzania and Sudan. "There end up being major staffing issues that need to be resolved so we don't have a long-term functioning clinic," Cooke says. At the same, he points out, "we've only been working on this in the last twelve months or so." So there may be opportunities in the future.