Africa-Press – Uganda. The high rate of infertility in the country is making couples settle for in vitro fertilisation (IVF), a technology that assists in the conception of a child.
IVF is where the female egg is fertilised in the lab and the embryo is taken back to grow in the uterus.
But many people are questioning the safety of this technology, which was first successfully applied in 1978 in England.
“IVF is very safe and the babies are very normal. I believe you meet many IVF babies and you can’t differentiate them from other babies,” Dr Joseph Kafuuma, a fertility specialist at Women’s Hospital International and Fertility Centre in Bukoto, Kampala, says.
“We don’t create babies in the hospital, we just aid in fertilisation. They are very normal babies, there is no increased risk of abnormalities,” he adds.
Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. Infertility affects both males and females.
Between 10 and 15 percent of couples in Uganda cannot have children due to infertility, according to the Ministry of Health.
As high as 75 percent of these are due to sexually transmitted infections, which lead to blockage of the fallopian tubes in women and sperm ducts in men.
Dr Sachin Kulkarni, a consultant at the IVF and fertility unit of UMC Victoria Hospital in Kampala, notes that there are a lot of childless couples in the country.
“One of the reasons is obesity, having pelvic infections repeatedly and suffering from fibroids. People who need IVF are those who have tried for around six years and they have not got pregnant,” he says.
He gives other causes for infertility as age [women approaching their 40s], women with low hormone levels and they have fewer eggs in their bodies, men with low sperm count, and [women] who have gone through multiple fibroids surgery.
“The treatment we are giving includes injectable gonadotrophin so that a patient can produce more eggs and have virtual pregnancy, IVF and egg donation programmes,” he explains.
Dr Kafuuma, on the other hand, says for men who do not have sperms in their semen, sperms are extracted through a minor surgery on their scrotum.
“We extract a little tissue from their testicles then we use a few sperms we get to fertilise the egg,” he explains.
Procedure for IVF
“IVF fertilisation is done outside the woman’s body. We get a woman’s egg and add a man’s sperm and put them together in a glass tube where fertilisation takes place. The tube does the work of the fallopian tube,” Dr Kafuuma says.
“After 24 hours, they will fertilise. We then leave them in the incubator for three to five days. So there, the baby develops into a stage known as an embryo,” the expert explains.
Dr Kafuuma says after those days, they get the embryos and transfer them into the uterus, where they are implanted and start growing.
“We put about three embryos. We put many because not all IVF procedures are 100 percent successful. If we got many eggs from the woman and made many embryos, we freeze the remainder for the future,” he adds.
Both experts were not willing to reveal the amount of money people spend on an IVF procedure.
But Dr Mukuzi Muhereza, another specialist and former general secretary of Uganda Medical Association, told this newspaper people are paying somewhere between Shs14m and Shs18m for the procedure.
“If you went out of Kampala, I know some colleagues from Mbarara who are doing that but anywhere else, you find that it becomes very inaccessible and very expensive. There is no guarantee that you will be successful in the first session. For one session, you will have to plan between Shs14m to Shs18m,” he reveals.
Dr Mukuzi appealed to the government to improve the capacity of the regional referral hospitals to provide fertility-related services, including IVF.
According to information from the Health Ministry, the government has “established the Women’s Hospital: Maternal and Neonatal Centre at Mulago hospital to provide affordable specialised fertility care to the public.”
Causes of infertility
● Abnormal sperm production or function due to genetic defects, health problems such as diabetes and infections.
● Over exposure to radiation and chemicals, alcohol/ tobacco consumption, drug abuse, use of steroids
● Cancer & its treatment.
● Ovulation disorders
● Uterine and cervical abnormalities
● Damage or blockage to fallopian tubes caused by inflammation