What is a fertility specialist?
A Fertility specialist is a doctor who specialises in treating couples who have difficulty in falling pregnant. My speciality is often confused with gynecology, but the two are very different, as the latter is more concerned with medical issues related to the female reproductive system and breasts. A gynecologist would refer a patient to a fertility specialist if they suspect infertility.
Are there other specialists with whom you consult?
We always have an in-house psychologist, as both the conditions of infertility and treatment of it are often an emotional roller-coaster, and patients benefit from psychological counsel. .
How common is infertility in SA?
It’s very common in South Africa and throughout the world. The quoted incidence is that it occurs in 15% of couples in reproductive age group (age 15 to 45). In sub-saharan Africa, that percentage can increase to around 20 – 25%. The problem with getting proper statistics is that very often patients who suffer from infertility find it difficult to seek help and are not diagnosed at all. This is due to the lack of access. There are only three facilities in South Africa in the public sector that can assist couples with infertility problems. Even if you include private fertility clinics, there are simply not enough to serve the number of patients that have fertility problems.
How important is early treatment of infertility?
Your peak fertility potential is between 20 and 30 years of age. Once you reach 35, there is a distinct decrease in your natural ability to fall pregnant. Even with fertility treatment, the success rate is highly dependent on age. The earlier you seek assistance, the better the outcome.
What Success story sticks in your mind the most?
A couple who had been trying to fall pregnant for more than 15 years had undergone many treatment cycles. Despite going to several clinics in South Africa, travelling to the UK and the USA, they was still unsuccessful. Their issue was that the husband had no sperm. Even after a testis biopsy they were unable to get sperm, and owing to their religious beliefs, they were not willing to accept donor sperm. I told them that it was unlikely that I would be able to help since they seem to have exhausted all options. We however tried a new approach using immature sperm. These were injected into the eggs, and to all our surprise we got fertilisation and an embryo developed. Even at the stage we were not too optimistic, but they fell pregnant! They now have a lovely six-year-old child and every year we get a ‘thank you’ card from them with a picture. These success stories, against-all-odds, keep me motivated to continue helping infertile couples in the journey to having a baby.
*This article originally appeared in Life Healthcare Magazine