x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Free infertility treatment for Emiratis

Infertility treatments will be free for UAE citizens under a new Government initiative in the emirate called 'Amal', Arabic for hope.

DUBAI // Infertility treatments will be free for UAE citizens under a new Government initiative in the emirate called “Amal”, Arabic for hope.

The Dubai Gynaecology & Fertility Centre (DGFC) will cover the costs of “all cycles of fertility treatment needed” for Emirati couples from Dubai, including in vitro fertilisation, the Dubai Health Authority said today.

Amal was launched on the orders of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

Thiqa health insurance covers fertility treatments for Emiratis from Abu Dhabi, but Emiratis from Dubai had to pay for treatments in the past, said Fatma Buhannad, DGFC director.

“It will be great news for them,” she said. “I’m sure that everybody will be happy, because this treatment can cost.”

The price for treating fertility problems can reach tens of thousands of dirhams.

One trial of in vitro fertilisation at the centre typically costs Dh22,000, while the cost for a intracytoplasmic sperm injection is Dh26,000.

“Not all insurance companies dealing with fertility doctors accept [the costs],” Ms Buhannad said.

The financial burden can force families to delay treatment until they save enough money, she added.

Dr David Robertson, medical director of the Bourn Hall Clinic in Dubai, said the news that the Government would foot the bill was not unexpected.

“It would bring Dubai in line with Abu Dhabi, so I’m not really surprised,” he said. “Of course from the local citizens’ point of view it’s a great thing.”

But Dr Robertson said that initiative should consider setting a limit on how many times someone can undertake in vitro fertilisation.

“I worked in Abu Dhabi for a while at Tawam Hospital,” he said. “We had the same thing happening with Thiqa patients there.

There was always some confusion over how much treatment they could have.”

He said: “I think it would be unhelpful to allow an unlimited treatment. I would be inclined to set a limit of three cycles, along those lines.”

In 2010, the UAE’s “total fertility rate” was 1.7 children per woman, down from 4.4 in 1990, according to the World Health Organisation.

Although the decline can be partly attributed to a growing number of female expatriate residents, it also reflects changes in Emirati society.

The country’s rapid development has resulted in more people attending university and entering the workforce, and consequently more women – and men – are delaying the age at which they marry and have children.

Experts say infertility affects UAE couples at the same rate as those globally, about 10 per cent. Locally, the most common cause of infertility in men is low sperm count, while for women it is polycystic ovarian syndrome, according to the DGFC.

The centre serves Emiratis and expatriates. It provides treatment to 500 to 600 Emirati couples a year, on average.

Women older than 40 get pregnant at a rate of 45 per cent; for those younger than 40, the rate is 55 per cent.

Since the centre opened in 1991, 3,000 babies have been born through treatments provided there.

The centre also tests patients for genetic disorders such as Thalassemia.