The revolutionary technology of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) has been a saviour for families struggling with infertility, enabling them to experience the joy of parenthood. Shailesh Guntu, CEO, Milann Fertility & Birthing Hospital, says, “While it is a fairly new treatment that started in India only in 1986, when the first test-tube baby was born to Mani Chawda, India is already on a firm growth trajectory. More and more patients are adopting IVF and are able to experience the joy of having a family. Studies also suggest that India is expected to be the emerging hub of the IVF market on a global level.”
That being said, the growth trajectory of IVF in India witnessed various disruptions with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Guntu throws light on the same.
The Advent Of COVID-19
On January 30, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization with a death toll of 171 in total. By the end of 2020, this figure rose to 18,13,188. This sudden outbreak of a full-blown pandemic led to the world coming to a standstill and affecting all sectors of society, life and businesses. The only way to control the spread of the disease was to set up lockdowns all around the world. The pandemic-induced lockdowns and social distancing norms also meant that IVF clinics had to hit the pause button on their operations.
“Since the lockdown was so sudden and came out of thin air, with no preparations of any sort, numerous IVF pregnancies suffered in many ways and were largely impacted by the undercurrent of uncertainty and the financial and emotional stress of being in the unknown,” explains Guntu. Several patients who were in the middle of their treatments were strongly advised to freeze their embryos. For the ones that had their cycles forthcoming, it was suggested they get their treatment cancelled till the situation stabilises.
Psychological Impact Of The Pandemic
Infertility, as a medical condition, affects patients in multiple ways; the pandemic only added to the woes and worsened the condition for most patients and people involved in the treatment process. “It was common knowledge that the pandemic was stress-inducing in many ways, and the delay in the treatment procedure increased this stress,” adds Guntu. Clinics tried their best to extend support to the patients in the form of regular counselling sessions and consultations. Staff was suffering on their end as well, as many had to be redeployed in the light of various units shutting down. Some staff members also had to upskill themselves in order to ensure operational efficiency.
Post Lockdown Scenario
As the pandemic situation improved with time, calls for the introduction of services started to grow in abundance. IVF clinics and their services resumed while keeping in mind the detailed guidelines that ensured maximum security of patients and staff, like social distancing, wearing a mask at all times, regular sanitization of hands and premises, etc. These guidelines were issued by medical research institutes like the Indian Council of Medical Research, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, The British Fertility Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention etc. “These medical research institutes also recommended the cancellation of treatment if a woman was newly diagnosed with COVID-19 during stimulation. Guidelines also suggested freeze-all if the diagnosis is suspected or made between oocyte recovery and embryo transfer,” says Guntu.
Treading On The Revival Path
After the lockdowns started rolling back, clinics started introducing innovation in their operations to comply with pandemic regulations and the ‘new normal’. Digitisation of communication and cross-training staff revolutionised the long-standing procedures and brought in change. Guntu adds, “Clinics also started investing more in the adoption of newer and more advanced technology. The focus was also drawn towards bettering patient experiences and extending support in the form of counselling.”
The Progressive Future Of The Indian IVF Market
As per a report by Market Watch, the Indian IVF services market is estimated to reach the $775.9 million mark by 2022. This is indicative of the fact that the Indian IVF market is treading on the path of recovery and seems to have a progressive future. Since it is growing at a significant pace, it is even receiving support from the Government. The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill that was passed by the Parliament just recently is indeed a testimony of the same.
Summing up, Guntu says, “Keeping in mind the challenges faced by the IVF sector and the way it managed to sustain itself even after such a setback, it is only fair to say that it showed great resilience, adaptiveness and willingness to transform. It is incredible how IVF clinics learnt a way to function and deliver the best results despite difficult situations.” Technology was embraced in the form of offering video consultations, digitising communication to reduce physical visits, etc. These advancements are here to stay and grow as the world needs to keep going forward with new knowledge that was gained with the pandemic.
Read more: Know Your Fertility Score: When To Go For IVF Treatment