Chinese women seek fertility treatment overseas

Poor local options, long waiting lists drive them to clinics in S'pore, Malaysia, Thailand

MELBOURNE • Prospective mothers in China are increasingly travelling abroad for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and egg-freezing treatments.

They are visiting fertility centres in countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and even as far as the United States, as they look to start, or expand, their families.

Factors pushing them to seek IVF treatment abroad include the relaxation of China's family planning policy, a lack of sufficient fertility options and long waiting lists at treatment centres in China, even as more women decide to start their families later.

IVF is the process of combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish and implanting the resulting embryo in the woman's uterus.

Mr Paul McTaggart, chief executive officer of Bangkok-based healthcare consultancy Medical Departures, told China Daily that "excess demand for IVF treatment, limited clinics available and months in waiting for consultation appointments" are among the factors driving Chinese women to seek programmes abroad.

"The legality of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and gender selection are also reasons Chinese mothers don't go through IVF domestically," he said.

PGD is the genetic profiling of an embryo prior to implantation in the uterus.

He added that anecdotal evidence suggests that the success rates of IVF programmes in China are about 10 per cent lower compared with overseas.

The cost of such programmes - which typically take four to six weeks per cycle - varies widely across the region.

According to Medical Departures, the cost of IVF treatment in Thailand ranges from 48,000 yuan (S$10,000) to 80,000 yuan.

In Malaysia, it costs approximately 21,000 to 31,000 yuan. And expenses in Singapore range from 40,000 to 88,000 yuan.

Figures from Medical Departures show the costs of IVF treatment in China range from 16,500 to 43,500 yuan, with the average around 30,000 yuan.

While this compares favourably to overseas alternatives in general, cost is not the only factor involved.

Time and quality of service are also prime considerations.

Mr Kyle Francis, CEO of the Southern California Reproduction Centre, said: "The increasing volume is driven by strong Chinese cultural ties to extend the bloodline and a growing understanding and acceptance of fertility treatments.

"In addition, (there are) the change in the (family planning) policy, the increasing number of late marriages and women choosing to freeze their eggs.

"Fertility preservation is also a growing factor, due in part to the fact that people are waiting longer to get married, particularly as women's career opportunities have expanded."

Egg freezing is another popular option among Chinese women.

It is forbidden for unmarried women in China but remains an attractive option abroad for women - typically educated and middle-class - who seek to postpone having children until later in their career.

Said Mr Francis: "We are seeing patients in their early 30s to early 40s. Due to our advanced technology in our egg-freezing process, we have high survival rates of our oocytes (eggs) and they may be stored indefinitely."

Frozen eggs can typically be stored for many years and remain viable.

"We have had patients be successful with eggs and embryos frozen over 10 years," he added.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2018, with the headline 'Chinese women seek fertility treatment overseas'. Subscribe