The recently concluded Starting Families Asia Study involving 1,000 women across 10 Asian countries, including Malaysia, has revealed critical knowledge gaps about fertility, the key causes of infertility and fertility treatment options.
Commissioned by Merck Serono, a division of Merck, Darmstadt, Germany, in collaboration with the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the National University Hospital (NUH) Women’s Centre in Singapore, the Starting Families Asia Study is endorsed by the Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproduction (ASPIRE).
Commenting on the findings of the study, Professor Zainul Rashid Mohd Razi, Deputy Dean of Postgraduate and International Students, Consultant O&G, Reproductive Specialist, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said, “The results from Starting Families Asia could be indicative of the potential barriers to the help that women and couples should be seeking and receiving when planning to start a family; especially for those facing difficulty in conceiving.”
He adds that the study results also highlight that more public education and awareness on the impact of age and medical problems on fertility, as well as the treatment options available to patients who may be suffering from infertility, is vital.
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT FERTILITY?
The Starting Families Asia study revealed that less than half of the women surveyed across the region understand that a couple is classified as infertile if they fail to conceive after one year of trying (43%); that a woman in her forties has a lower chance of falling pregnant than a woman in her thirties (36%); and that a healthy lifestyle does not necessarily guarantee fertility (32%).
This could mean that many women are not seeking the help or treatment that could improve their chances of conceiving – particularly for women above age 35.
Many women believe that fate plays a part in fertility problems. In Malaysia, 71% of women believe that infertility is “God’s will” and 42% attribute it to “bad luck”.
There also seems to be a widespread lack of knowledge about male fertility issues – 51% of women do not know that a man may be infertile even if he can achieve an erection, and 49% do not realise that a man may be infertile even though he produces sperm.
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT TREATMENT OPTIONS?
While general awareness about fertility treatment options is relatively high across the region, around 30% of women surveyed are still not likely to proactively seek professional help, even if they suspect they have a fertility problem.
In Malaysia, 52% of the women surveyed who had been trying to conceive for more than six months were unaware of where their nearest fertility centre was located. The single greatest barrier to seeking help in Malaysia is the perceived high cost associated with fertility treatment – this perception is consistent across the countries surveyed.
For women who do seek professional help, seeking advice from healthcare professionals and performing diagnostic tests are common sources of obtaining treatment. Alternative or complementary therapies are also common options for those who have heard of them.
“Asian countries have among the lowest fertility rates in the world and the declining birth rates are a cause for concern. This study will help us better understand Asian women’s decision-making considerations around having a baby. It is our hope that insights from this study, which highlights critical fertility knowledge gaps that need to be addressed, will assist healthcare professionals and policy makers in addressing this acute challenge,” said Mr Alex Chua, Managing Director, Merck Serono Malaysia.
To know more about infertility problems and treatment options, please visit www.fertilityasia.com.
Fertility: Fact Versus Fiction
Myth: If men ejaculate, they are fertile.
Truth: Males may have very low sperm count, low sperm motility or poor-quality sperm and still ejaculate. In some cases the ejaculate may contain no sperm at all. The only way of knowing what ejaculate contains is through analysis in a laboratory.
Myth: Fertility issues are more likely to affect women than men.
Truth: Conception difficulties occur equally in men and women. Male and female factors each account for about a third of complications. The remaining third are either a combination of both or are unexplained.
Myth: There’s time to keep trying until the age of 40.
Truth: Age affects the success rates of infertility treatments as well as your natural ability to get pregnant. Fertility declines steeply after the age 35. By the age of 40 a healthy women has about 5% chance of getting pregnant in a given month. If your initial treatment is not successful, do not wait to consult a fertility specialist in a specialised fertility clinic.
Myth: Women going through fertility treatments end with twins or triplets.
Truth: The majority of women who succeed with fertility treatments will have a single child. The risk of multiple pregnancies with infertility treatments is higher than usual, but can be minimized. Currently on average 21% of pregnancies resulting from IVF and ICSI are twins and 1% are triplets. This is primarily due to the practice of transferring several embryos into the uterus to increase chances for success. Discuss with your doctor ways to minimize the risk of multiple pregnancies.
Myth: Our first baby was easily conceived, so we’re not expecting any problems with the second.
Truth: There is cause for optimism. But things may also have changed since then. Some couples are diagnosed with secondary infertility, which can occur despite a successful pregnancy.
Myth: Fertility treatments go against nature.
Truth: Being able to conceive a child is the most natural thing for humans. Fertility treatments attempt to remove or bypass barriers causing your conception difficulties hoping that nature will do the rest.
Myth: Couples often get pregnant once they adopt a child.
Truth: There is no proof that pregnancy and adoption are linked any way. Some stories travel better than others and you probably don’t hear about couples who adopt but still don’t get pregnant.
Myth: The more often we have sex the higher our chances of getting pregnant.
Truth: Frequent intercourse (every 1 to 2 days) yields the highest pregnancy rates, but results achieved with less frequent intercourse (two to three times per week) are nearly equivalent. The best time to conceive is during the “fertile window” – that is, during the 6-day interval ending on the day of ovulation.