One in six couples of reproductive age have a fertility problem, the definition of which is that they have not conceived after twelve months of unprotected sexual intercourse.
Medical breakthroughs over the years has allowed them to opt for in vitro fertilisation (IVF)services, but this is an option left mainly for those who can afford it, as private sector costs can range from R25 000 to R35 000 and is not covered by medical aid.
Using a novel model Dr Thabo Matsaseng, a fertility expert with the Department Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), is able to offer IVF services at a fraction of the price charged by private clinics.
Using this simple model, the fertility unit at Tygerberg Hospital is able to charge between R6000 and R7000 for a cycle of IVF treatment. Only two other university hospitals in the country offer partially subsidised IVF treatment, however these prices are almost on par with that of private clinics.
Matsaseng left his private obs-gynae practice in KwaZulu-Natal in 2008 to sub-specialise in fertility at the FMHS. He said that in his practice he had seen many women struggling to conceive, and witnessed their battles and desperation, and it frustrated him that he couldn’t do anything except to refer them with a hope that they will get necessary assistance. He knew that many of them would not be able to afford IVF and came to Stellenbosch to figure out a way to help these women.
He started by taking a critical look at the process of IVF treatment to see where they could reduce costs. First they cut down on human resources and shared more responsibilities among themselves to save money that would have gone towards staff salaries. Instead of having an IVF co-ordinator to book and confirm appointments, they communicate with patients using SMS, in that way limiting their administrative costs. And through a public-private interaction with the Aevitas Clinic in Pinelands they save on the price of consumables and certain laboratory services.
He also made some changes to the treatment process itself. Generally a patient would receive a large amount of hormone therapy medication to produce as many eggs as possible, but in their model they use less hormone therapy medication to produce fewer, but still a sufficient amount of eggs. When harvesting the eggs he uses local anaesthesia and conscious sedation, instead of the general practice of placing the patient under anaesthesia that requires theatre time and an anaesthetist.
At almost a quarter of the price of private IVF their success rate is fairly acceptable – they have a 25% to 30% success rate compared to the 35% to 40% achieved by their private colleagues.
Listen to Dr Thabo Matsaseng's interview with Kieno Kammies here: