Elizar Paz Reyes and Catherine with their son Kyle Joseph. Catherine struggled with infertility for seven years. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: One out of every five couples in the UAE is known to suffer from infertility, yet there is still a social stigma against discussing fertility treatment. The stigma can be demotivating for couples battling with the condition, especially as they may feel that something is wrong with them alone, one resident told Gulf News.

“I struggled with infertility for seven years, and was fortunate to deliver my baby boy only two months ago. He was conceived through in vitro fertilisation (IVF), and having been through the experience, I would encourage other couples to be more open about their journey to parenthood. It might help and encourage other couples going through the same concern,” said the 33-year-old nurse from the Philippines.

Reyes and her husband were one of 14 couples who became pregnant under a Dh1.5 million charity initiative by private sector health care provider, United Eastern Medical. The initiative, launched in 2017 — the Year of Giving, made fertility treatment available free of charge to 25 needy couples. In most cases, the couples had been married for more than five years, and in some, the women were aged 35 years or more. The treatments were therefore tailored to meet each couple’s needs, including surgical procedures as required.

Reyes herself had been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian disease as a teenager, and the condition often leads to infertility.

“My husband and I were considering undergoing IVF, but the cost was a barrier. But we really wanted to start a family. Our younger siblings all have children of their own, and it was very frustrating for us not to be able to conceive even after seven years,” Reyes said.

The couple takes home less than Dh20,000 a month, and uses much of the funds to support their elderly parents in the Philippines.

“We were thinking of saving up till we could undergo treatment when we came across this initiative in October 2017,” Reyes said.

The couple was selected for the treatment, and started the procedures in January 2018. After a rocky first trimester, the rest of the pregnancy proceeded smoothly, and Reyes delivered a healthy baby at 38 weeks.

“Kyle Joseph was a healthy 2.83-kilograms at full term, and he has been the answer to our prayers. I hope he will grow up healthy, and be a good and responsible man like his father,” the happy mummy said.

In another case, a baby boy was born to A.A., a 28-year-old man engineer from Pakistan, and his wife. A.A. suffers from Kartagener’s syndrome, a rare disorder that could impair the motility of sperm cells.

“Although my wife and I have only been married for a little more than a year, I knew my condition would affect our ability to get pregnant. This free treatment came as a godsend for us, especially as I might not have been able to afford fertility procedures with my Dh5,000-a-month salary,” A.A. said.

Incidentally, A.A. came to know of the UE Medical initiative when he read about it in Gulf News.

While the 25 free fertility programmes were limited to the 2017 Year of Giving initiative by UE Medical, the provider also operates a Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Eligible couples can have between 10 to 70 per cent of the IVF cycle cost covered under this programme, said Mohammad Ali Al Hammadi, chief executive officer and managing director at UE Medical.

“Couples who are seeking fertility treatment but struggling financially can apply for assistance when seeking treatment at UE Medical’s HealthPlus Fertility Centres. They would be requested to submit documents such as their income statement, salary certificates, financial liabilities proofs, marriage certificates etc. A committee reviews all cases accurately and a decision is made on a case-by-case basis,” Al Hammadi said.