Couples drain savings to treat infertility

By Minh An   August 18, 2023 | 12:19 am PT
Couples drain savings to treat infertility
The first baby fertilized in a test tube in Vietnam born at Tu Du Hospital, April 30, 1998. Photo courtesy of Tu Du Hospital
While sitting in the hallway of the Fertility Center in the Hospital of Post and Telecommunications, Oanh watches her husband count their every last penny, believing that this is their last chance to have a child.

The couple married in 2019 when Oanh was 23 years old. In the span of two years, she has miscarried three times. "It was clear I wasn’t lucky," she said.

Doctors concluded that they would not be able to conceive naturally. Her husband has a chromosome mutation that prevented a natural pregnancy from occurring and would also cause intrauterine insemination (IUI) to fail.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Nha, Director of the Fertility Center, advised the couple to consider in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, it is a very costly procedure, and since Oanh and her husband were barely scraping by, they refused.

Both Oanh and her husband are freelancers, and their salaries only barely enough to pay for their expenses. Oanh cannot recall how many herbalists she has met with, or how many pots of traditional medicine she has drunk. All she knew was that their assets kept on being depleted, leaving them with only their house.

Unable to bear seeing his wife this way, Nam encouraged Oanh to go back to the hospital to give IVF a try. Thanks to both of their parents’ financial support and a prior application that she submitted to the hospital, she got a discount of VND30 million (US$1,260) and had to pay about VND150 million.

The transfer was a success and Oanh had a normal and healthy pregnancy. In May 2022, she gave birth to a baby girl.

As she held her newborn daughter in her arms, Oanh wished she had carried out IVF right from the start so it would not have taken a toll on her mentally, physically, and financially. For four years, the couple have spent VND500 million, an unimaginable amount for the average Vietnamese household.

Currently, there are no statistics about how many Vietnamese married couples have drained their life savings for infertility treatments, but Dr. Nha remarked that it is an ongoing battle where money does not guarantee victory.

Numerous married couples have spared no expense on Western medicine, traditional medicine, and state-of-the-art technology to treat their infertility issues.

Aside from IVF, there is also IUI (inserting sperm into the womb), ICSI (injecting sperm into the egg), IVM (collecting and maturing the egg inside a test tube), and sperm and embryo freezing. Any of these procedures can cost VND10-15 million, and an embryo transfer can cost up to VND100 million.

On average, it can take 1-2 times for a transfer to be successful, but there are also cases in which multiple transfers were required, leading to a higher bill, the total of which is far from a low-income family’s ability to pay.

One couple, Kim and Son, have gone through artificial insemination 10 times in the course of 17 years.

Kim 49, luckily had a baby in the last treatment. Ever since their child was born, Kim would tease her husband, saying: "We’re left with nothing but our baby".

Their treatment expenses for all 17 years accumulated to several billions of dong, prompting them to sell their house and move in with a sibling. Nevertheless, they still have a debt of VND500 million.

In an interview with VnExpress in June, former Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Viet Tien suggested that medical insurance should bear a portion of the cost for infertile married couples’ hospital bills.

Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest infertility rate among young couples in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

As reported by the Ministry of Health, the infertility rate among couples in the birthing age in Vietnam is 7.7%, which is around 1 million couples.

About half of that percentage is secondary infertility, meaning that the person cannot conceive after previously giving birth, a percentage which increases 15-20% every year.

Medical insurance provides no support for infertility treatments, even though a number of related diseases such as ovarian cyst and uterine fibroids are covered.

Meanwhile, medical insurance in France, for example, covers four instances of IVF. China has also added 16 fertility services into the categories that medical insurance would cover since 2022.

The network of infertility treatment in Vietnam consists of 50 medical institutions, which was not enough for the needs of the entire nation. It was estimated that the treatment capacity of the 50 institutions is 50,000 cases a year, taking up only 5% of the 1 million infertile couples.

Even with the odds stacked against them, many couples are willing to risk everything in the hopes of having a child.

"When they’re able to have their baby in their arms, many couples say it is worth all of their financial troubles," Nha says.

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