IVF clinics following strict safety norms, screening donors and recipients for virus

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic and with two vaccines now available, fertility clinics in the national capital claim that the rush is back with walk-in patients having more than doubled as compared to December 2019.

Infertility expert and founder of Seeds of Innocence Gauri Agarwal said patients who had been waiting during the lockdown are now coming and looking to start the treatment.

“There is, however, an additional pressure on IVF clinics to ensure screening of donors due to the threat of COVID-19. We are following a strict screening protocol, including RT-PCR test and on-day pick up,” said Dr. Gauri.

She added that the priority is thorough screening as it is not only about financial and time implications but also emotional and physical trauma. “We ensure that the donors are safe and are taking all precautions against the virus,” she said.

Doctors said they did not do donor egg cycles for a long time because of the risk of COVID-19 infection due to involvement of a third party, and sperm samples are used after six months of freezing.

Renu Misra, head of department (HOD) at Miracles Fertility and IVF in Gurugram, said: “What we saw was that a lot of people waiting for infertility treatment got pregnant on their own during the pandemic.”

“Remote working measures by many firms during the pandemic encouraged couples to start their family. As both partners are at home, they have been getting enough time together to take decisions that took a backseat due to their pre-COVID busy life. As a result, we have witnessed over 10,000 people coming for consultations across our 27 IVF centres in 19 cities during this period. This shows there is definitely an increase in couples planning to start families and coming for treatment,” said Aswati Nair, fertility consultant at Nova IVF.

Speaking about the practical issues doctors faced during the pandemic, R.K. Sharma, IVF specialist, said the problem is more with the egg donors.

Practical problems

“Once you stimulate the donor and if she tests positive for COVID, then the cycle has to be cancelled, which has a lot of psychological and financial affect on the recipient and donor, and also becomes difficult for the clinicians to handle. As far as the donor is concerned, the person has to take an RT-PCR test before freezing semen. After one month, the donor has to take an antibody test. Only if the result is negative, then the sample is used. Hence, smart testing and tracing is the need of the hour,” he said.

“Right now, after the vaccines have been brought in and the pandemic is more under control, there is not much pressure on sperm banks as such. They can accommodate any number of requests. The demand and understanding has increased but to quote an exact number [on the rise in demand for donors] is not possible currently,” explained Richika Sahay, HOD IVF, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj.

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