x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

End of free ride for Libyan women wanting IVF treatment in Jordan

The spiralling cost of Libya's misused health programme that was intended to pay for wounded fighters and very ill patients to get medical care overseas ends hopes for would-be mothers seeking treatment.

DEAD SEA, JORDAN // Three months ago, Fatmeh Mohammad and her husband boarded a plane from Libya and headed to Jordan. They have been married for 15 years and Mrs Mohammad was eager to undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF) paid for by her government.

But Mrs Mohammad's hopes were dashed when she learnt just after her arrival that the procedure, which costs about US$4,000 (Dh14,692), would no longer be covered by Libya's programme that pays for wounded fighters and very ill patients to get medical care overseas.

Also, Libya will stop paying for her accommodation in Jordan.

"Two days after my arrival, the government stopped covering IVF treatment, but my accommodation was covered till now", she said, surrounded by other women at a Dead Sea five-star hotel, all seeking IVF treatment.

"The reason I came to Jordan is because the government was treating us for free. It is the government's duty to do so. Now I would have to pay the costs."

Nearly 8,000 Libyan women have come to Jordan since August for IVF treatment. The government paid for a second IVF procedure if the first one did not work.

While the programme originally was intended for those injured in the war that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi, it soon expanded and covered medical conditions that Libya's dismal heathcare system was unable to handle.

In February, in an effort to control spiralling costs, the government cut the number of medical conditions covered by the programme to cancer, heart conditions, kidney diseases and children's ailments.

"Many women are sterile and our health system has been suffering for 40 years", said Mrs Mohammad. "It is not fair that there are women who underwent the treatment for free and others who didn't. Patients who squandered public money ruined our chances."

Many women rushed to Jordan after they heard statements made at a September press conference by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council. He said injured Libyans would get free care in Jordan and Italy.

Many Libyans, however, interpreted his statement to mean that any Libyan with a medical problem that could not be treated in Libya could avail themselves of the programme.

"Patients started taking planes and coming on their own, without a permission," said Fawzi Hammouri, president of Jordan's Private Hospital Association. "They understood this as a declaration of approval for all patients and injured."

For many Libyan women, IVF treatment in Jordan was the talk of the town.

"People were asking me if I will give it a go," said Leila Ramadan, 35, who is seeking IVF. She has a 7-year-old son, who was conceived through IVF in Jordan. That procedure was paid for by the Qaddafi government.

"My son wants a brother. All my friends are having IVF treatment," she said, referring to the women who have rushed to Jordan since last fall. Some returned to Libya pregnant.

"One of my friends named her son after the doctor who performed the surgery," Mrs Ramadan said.

She will undergo her third attempt this month. "At first the government covered my treatment but now they stopped. Every time the government comes up with something that scares us. We need to be relaxed for IVF."

Aysheh Mohammad, 35, has been married for five years. She had one failed attempt and when she was scheduled for the second IVF procedure, she said the government stopped paying for it. "First they are standing in the way of our treatment and now they want us out of the hotels. We are now frustrated. "

smaayeh@thenational.ae