By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

Despite having a booming population of more than 100 million, the Philippines still has problems when in comes to infertility: one in 10 Filipinos suffers from it.

One in 10 Filipinos are infertile — survey

This is according to a 2013 survey by market research company Synovate, cited by Dr. Virgilio M. Novero, Jr., in a forum on fertility on Sept. 8. A 2004 report by the United Nations Development Programme said the infertility rate in the country was 7.90%.

Infertility, according to the World Health Organization, 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.”

Dr. Novero said the condition is related to “socio-cultural practices, including the educational status, professional goals, and marrying age.”

Women ages 37 and 38 are already at a critical stage when it comes to their ability to bear children. When they reach 45, there is 87% likelihood of infertility.

But men may also be the reason for a couple’s inability to start a family if they have testicular disease, a sexual disorder, or a sperm transport problem.

Dr. Novero added that lifestyle also affects fertility — smokers, the obese, and caffeine lovers may find it hard to conceive.

To identify the causes of their infertility, it is best for couples to seek out experts who may also have suggestions for available treatments, including in vitro fertilization (IVF).

In IVF, a woman’s eggs are retrieved from her ovaries and then fertilized with her partner’s sperm. The resulting embryos are then implanted in her uterus.

Dr. Novero is the head of the Center for Advanced Reproductive Medicine and Infertility (CARMI) at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Bonifacio Global City, which offers IVF treatment. There are currently six IVF centers in the country: one each in Davao and Cebu and four in Metro Manila (the Center for Reproductive Medicine, Inc. in Pasig City, the Kato Repro Biotech Center and Victory Lab both in Makati City, and CARMI)

Dr. Novero, said of the approximately 100,000 Filipinos who suffer from infertility, only 2.50% are being served. The reasons, he said are “financial and moral, competence issues, and being unaware of IVF.”

At CARMI, the price for IVF ranges from P280,000 to P300,000 per cycle for an average patient. A cycle has a success rate of 45%. It usually takes one to two cycles to get pregnant, but then again, it depends per case. The price tag includes the doctor’s fee, medication, and hospital charges.

Another reason for low IVF turnout is cultural. Dr. Eileen Manalo, a CARMI member, said IVF was introduced in the country in 1995. Before it was offered locally, the late Jaime Cardinal Sin told them the procedure was allowable as long as the doctors did not promote it. “People do not talk about it, we do not advertise,” she said.

But now the times have changed. IVF in the Philippines is being advertised and becoming a go-to option, especially for foreigners, because “Filipino doctors offer TLC (tender loving care),” said Dr. Jesusa Banal-Silao, also a CARMI member.

The doctors said our “technology is even ahead than some Asian countries.”

While it is now being promoted as a treatment option for infertility, the Philippine Society of Reproductive Medicine maintains that IVF providers in the country follow ethical procedures including doing the procedure on married couples only and banning commercial surrogacy (where sperm, eggs, or uterus are not those of the married couple involved).