IVF in Ireland A booming industry
Up to 3,000 babies are born in Ireland each year as a result of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and other high-tech interventions.
Assisted human reproduction is now a booming industry here with approximately 26 fertility clinics offering a range of fertility treatment from IVF to egg freezing and artificial insemination.
IVF uses drugs to induce an artificial menopause, followed by high doses of ovarian stimulation. The aim is to produce more than eight eggs to be fertilised in the laboratory.
The technique was pioneered here by Professor Robbie Harrison, a consultant obstetrician at Dublin's Rotunda Hospital, and the first IVF or test-tube baby was born at the Rotunda in January 1986.
In the multi-million euro industry today, a standard IVF treatment can cost anything from €3,800 to upwards on €7,000 and has a 31pc success rate.
Last year, 1,100 IVF cycles were carried out at the Simms Clinic in Clonskeagh, Ireland's largest fertility clinic, which boasts a pregnancy success rate that is around 9pc higher than the national average.
Dr David Walsh, consultant gynaecologist at the clinic, predicts that the current rate of one-in-six couples who are experiencing difficulties conceiving naturally will rise to one-in-four within the decade.
He explained that the reason for the rise was to do with a change in lifestyle.
"Many couples are delaying having children, expressing a preference to rear a family only after establishing a stable relationship and financial security. There is also a growing number of late and second marriages," he said.
Dr Walsh said that financial strain was now adding to the stress of couples experiencing infertility.
"Infertility is often the straw that breaks the camel's back. The generation that is being financially compromised by the boom and negative equity are the same generation who are getting hit with this.
"It is a perfect storm for people in their 30s. They are probably the most vulnerable group, with crippling mortgages and whose jobs are under threat.
"I had a couple recently who had both lost their jobs, they had a family bereavement and then infertility on top of that. It is insurmountable. This generation is being hit every way, emotionally, financially, professionally and it is just terrible," he said.
But IVF treatment is not without its risks. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a condition in which the ovaries swell and fluid leaks into the abdominal cavity and chest, can be severe and even fatal in approximately 2pc of cases.
Dr Martine Millet Johnston of the Kilkenny Clinic believes that natural-cycle or low-stimulation IVF, which uses milder drugs and is less costly but has a lower success rate, is a better way forward.
"With technology so advanced now, specialists like ourselves are fine-tuning our techniques and we are better able to monitor the cycle," she said.
As a member of the Irish Fertility Society, she also believes that state funding is required to radically tackle the rise in infertility.
"We should be looking at preventing fertility problems. We should be looking at diet and exercise for children in secondary school.
"There should be a stronger emphasis on the protection of reproductive health rather than tackling a problem at a crisis stage," she said.