Many European couples suffering from infertility are traveling abroad for treatment. Their reasons for journeying to other countries has to do with their desire to receive the best care and because certain procedures may be banned in their own countries. This is according to a study that was presented to the 25th annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.
Co-author of the study, London’s Dr. Françoise Shenfield who is affiliated with the University College Hospital, said that the study results are the first true evidence of significant fertility patient migration in Europe. Up until this point, Shenfield said that physicians had only anecdotal evidence for the phenomenon.
The ESHRE Task Force studied data generated from clinics in 6 European entities: Switzerland, Spain, Slovenia, Denmark, Belgium, and the Czech Republic over the course of one month’s time. The clinics administered questionnaires to patients who had come to them from abroad for fertility treatment. Patients responded to questions regarding country of residence, age, reasons for journeying to a foreign country for treatment, the treatment received, whether they were given information in their mother tongues, how they were led to choose a particular clinic, and if their native health systems’ had reimbursed them for their care. Patients filled out a total of 1230 such forms.
Shenfield says that the data shows that 20,000-25,000 infertility treatments in these six countries per year are cross-border treatments. It is difficult, however, to figure out how many patients these numbers represent, since those receiving the treatments may be repeat patients, receiving more than one cycle of treatment until conception is achieved. The majority of the cross-border patients, some two-thirds, hailed from 4 of the six countries in the study. The largest numbers of cross-border patients come from Italy (31.8%), then Germany (14.4%), followed by the Netherlands (12.1%) and France (8.7%). A total of 49 countries were represented by these cross-border patients for fertility treatments.
Most of the patients cited legal restrictions on the desired treatments in their own countries. Of the German patients, 80.6% reported this phenomenon as their main reason for journeying abroad for treatment along with 71.6% of the Norwegians, 70.6% of the Italians, and 64.5% of the French patients. The patients from the UK (34%) were the largest group to report their main reason for having treatment outside of their home country as due to the difficulties of accessing the desired treatments at home.
Most of the respondents were traveling for assisted reproduction treatment (ART) 73% as compared to 22.2% for intrauterine insemination (IUI), and 4.9% for both ART and IUI. The figures varied from country to country. Most of the IUI treatments were for French (53.3%) and Swedish (62.3%) patients, with ART for most of the patients from other countries.