Japan needs more babies, so it is contributing to the cost of expensive IVF. As part of the government's effort to slow the decline of one of the world's fastest-aging populations, public health insurance will begin reimbursing 70% of the costs of advanced fertility treatmentson Friday.
Atsushi Tanaka, doctor and director of Saint Mother in Kita Kyushu, southern Japan, expects more patients at his clinic, which is already crowded with couples seeking treatments such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which used to cost more than 500,000 yen ($4,090) per cycle – more than the average household's monthly income.
Tanaka and other experts, however, believe that this will not be enough to reverse Japan's demographic decline, as patients continue to face significant costs and insurance coverage excludes procedures such as genetic screening and the use of donor eggs.
"The real target for Japan is to keep more people alive in good health," says Tanaka.Japan has the third largest fertility rate in the developed world, and fertility rates continue rising in all countries.
The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 1.3 million babies will be born in Japan this year – around 10% more births than last year.Despite the recent increase, it will take Japan until 2034 to match this increase.How does IVM compare to IVP?IVM is a procedure that injects a small amount of sperm into the woman's egg, typically at her age of 18 to 24.
These days, IVMs are available for IVFs as well. IVPs are the traditional way of treating infertility in developed countries, where the egg may be retrieved from a donor, but in much of Japan the procedure is not available. However, there are still about 6,800 IVP procedures performed annually in hospitals in China, the United States and Canada.
Doctors in these countries have been using the same donor egg or donor sperm, with little or no risk of transmitting a genetic disorder.Some clinics have even used donor embryos that are donated for free.In Japan such embryos are often destroyed in advance of use, due to concerns over the quality of such donations."
Japan is in a situation that is very difficult to change," said Tanaka.There are no national IVP policies in place in this country and it appears many doctors have not used this option at all.But it is clear that the Japanese government is making efforts to improve the process.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare revealed that it was reviewing its regulations and procedures related to IVF, including its oversight of egg donors.
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