When the Ministry of Health eased the restrictions on non-essential medical procedures such as In-vitro Fertilization (IVF), women like Sara were ecstatic. She and her husband Ibrahim had been planning to go ahead with embryo implantation just before the shutdown for COVID-19 began in March, and at the time they had no idea when they might be able to resume treatment in their desperate hope to grow their family.
But now the 38-year-old is back to her treatment, albeit with restrictions in place around social distancing and hygiene at the hospital.
“I am so happy. When COVID-19 restrictions were imposed I thought I would not be able to complete my treatment this year. I understand the apprehensions around COVID but we were invited to the clinic to witness all safety measures in place, which was very reassuring. I feel so fortunate to be able to resume my treatment. I prefer to continue this treatment even amidst the COVID, because soon, I am turning 39 and time is critical. Age is an important factor in determining the success of IVF, and I don’t want to take a chance to miss this opportunity,” says Sara.
Similarly, Dubai-based expat couple from the Netherlands, Paola and Scott, both 35, consider themselves lucky that they will have an embryo transfer with IVI clinic in Abu Dhabi soon.
“With us, it’s not a case of we can just wait till next month or next year,” Paola said. “In my case it’s now or never.” Although she’s only 35, she has been diagnosed with low ovarian reserve, which means her chances of producing a viable egg diminish as every month passes. “I am going infertile and I cannot wait and have to ensure that I get my embryo transfer done right away,” said Paola.
Meanwhile for Laila, a cancer patient, it is important that she freezes her eggs before her cancer treatment starts next month.
“My breast cancer treatment starts next month. Given the side-effects that come with the treatment, I don’t want to lose the chance to be a mother. Therefore, my husband and I have decided to opt for embryo freezing even during this pandemic to ensure that we don’t miss out our chance to be parents in the future. We have absolute faith and trust in the clinic and are sure they have the best measures in place for a safe procedure,” said Laila.
In the UAE, Assisted Reproductive Technology was involved in the birth of hundreds babies in 2019 alone. The treatment involves several procedures and has been a ray of hope for several couples who had otherwise lost hope of becoming parents.
As such, doctors who treat infertility are keenly aware of their patients’ sense of urgency even amidst COVID. “Infertility is a medical condition, and for some, it is time-sensitive,” Dr Laura Melado, IVF Specialist, IVI Abu Dhabi says. “We do not know how long this crisis will last. As such, we are working on a case-by-case basis, to help our patients continue their treatments.”
With the uncertainty surrounding the virus, and no thorough research yet on how it can impact a pregnancy, patients have to weigh the risk between carrying a baby during a pandemic and potentially waiting too long to try. “The decision to opt for a treatment during COVID-19 is completely based on the patient,” Dr Laura says. "We are trying our best to stay thoughtful, logical, and nimble as we navigate this pandemic."