Poor and war-torn, Sudan might be the last place you
would expect to find an experiment in cutting-edge fertility
treatments. But by the end of October, a clinic at the University of
Khartoum plans to offer in vitro fertilisation to couples for less than
$300, a fraction of its cost in the west.
The clinic is one of three funded by the Low Cost IVF Foundation (LCIF) of Massagno, Switzerland, the brainchild of IVF pioneer Alan Trounson,
who is now president of the California Institute for Regenerative
Meanwhile a task force set up by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology
(ESHRE) is also set to make IVF affordable for African couples, by
vastly simplifying conventional IVF technologies. By the end of the
year it plans to begin offering IVF at clinics in Cairo and Alexandria,
in Egypt, for around $360.
A cycle of IVF costs about $12,000 in the U.S. How do these guys propose to cut the cost to $300?
"Most of what we do in the western world is overkill," says Jonathan Van Blerkom
of the University of Colorado at Boulder, a member of the ESHRE team...
For example, to stimulate egg production, many
clinics in the west prescribe genetically engineered or "recombinant"
forms of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) because it can cause women
to release a dozen or more eggs per cycle... Such drugs have
the disadvantage of being enormously expensive, sometimes costing
thousands of dollars per round of treatment...
contrast, clomiphene is a generic drug which prompts the pituitary
gland to pump out more FSH and costs just $11 for one round of
If you think that African birth rates are too high already, it's worth pointing out that there's a lot of tragic variance:
[S]ome 10 to 30 per cent of African couples are
infertile, often as a result of untreated sexually transmitted
diseases, botched abortions and post-delivery pelvic infections. In
Sudan, 20 per cent are infertile, double the rate in Europe and the US.
more, childless women in many African countries can face public
ridicule, accusations of witchcraft, loss of financial support,
abandonment and divorce, not to speak of their own shame and depression.
No matter how well no-frills IVF works in Africa, I suspect that medical licensing and lawsuits will keep it out of the U.S. Alas.