The Malta Independent 13 August 2022, Saturday

Infertility and its struggle

Thursday, 23 June 2022, 09:47 Last update: about 3 months ago

For numerous years, the concern of infertility was overseen, and many couples were left alone during such a difficult period.

Starting an IVF treatment is one of the biggest and toughest life decisions individuals facing this struggle have to make.

As many of us might be aware, this process can be a very emotionally and physically stressful one, implying the vital need for us to work towards protecting women’s health. Many strongly believe that the opportunity and desire to become a parent is at its core a human right and should never be considered as mere luck of the few.

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Combining a strong support system, better awareness and delving deeper into other possibilities when faced with persevering infertility, such as adoption, fostering and surrogacy, are vital for Malta’s society to progress further.

In fact, the Infertility Counselling Service offered at the ART Clinic aims at doing so, as it serves as a space where individuals facing infertility can explore their feelings and have the opportunity to develop their thoughts and make informed decisions on their future.

In 2013, IVF was introduced to Malta as a free medical service, and in light of our move towards equality between all citizens, such law was then amended in November 2018, making this service available to single women and same-sex couples. It further introduced embryo freezing, while also allowing for fertilisation of up to five eggs. In an effort to attract specialised professionals to Malta to provide their expertise, in 2018 embryologists who are not domiciled in Malta were added to the list of Highly Qualified Persons and offered tax cuts. In 2018, Malta saw a rate of 22.8% success from IVF cycles done at Mater Dei Hospital and private clinics, which is an increase of almost 2% from 2017, together with an increase in IVF cycles in 2019 having a total of 124 cycles being carried out. 

In 2020, legal changes were made to the Employment and Industrial Relations Act, matching Malta’s new IVF Law. These amendments led to an increase in the paid leave allowance of up to 60 hours per cycle for 3 IVF cycles, which is applicable to prospective parents who undergo IVF treatment both in Malta or abroad. It also extended to single working individuals and egg donors.

Needless to say, couples with fertility problems were struck hard during COVID-19 as new fertility treatments worldwide came to a halt in the hopes of slowing down the pandemic. Professor Geeta Nargund, a Medical Director at CREATE Fertility UK, stated that this brings fort the essential need for countries to adopt a “fully patient-centric approach that places their right to safety, affordability and accessibility at the heart of every decision.”

As revealed a couple of days ago by the Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne, together with Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms and Equality Rebecca Buttigieg, new amendments to the IVF Law in Malta are being made with the aim of further aiding couples with fertility problems.

The government has announced an IVF medication refund scheme for couples suffering with infertility, as costs of IVF cycles rise to around €15,000 per cycle. This will also extend to couples who have another child. Married couples will also be given the possibility of opting for embryo donations, as this was previously not present in the prior law.

An increase in the number of free IVF cycles was also highlighted by the Health Minister.

An additional cycle will be provided for free to couples how have undergone three unsuccessful cycles. The amendments within the law extend to increasing the age limit of women eligible for IVF treatment to 45-years of age, while also allowing for genetic testing prior to implantation to enable doctors to keep an eye out for severe medical conditions.

Health Minister Chris Fearne emphasised that through such scientific and technological advancements, Malta welcomed 418 babies.

 

Mignon Agius is a former LEAD participant.

 

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