It’s been a turbulent year for hopeful parents...
The coronavirus pandemic saw fertility treatment, including IVF, temporarily placed on hold in Australia. And while it’s now back in operation, things look a little different in clinics. We spoke to Genea Fertility specialist Dr Rashi Kalra about what patients can expect as they commence or resume treatment.
Fertility treatment, including IVF, was put on hold for thousands of Australians in March. Fertility clinics have now reopened but is everything back to normal or are you approaching treatment differently?
In our clinics, our priority is the safety of our patients and staff. Everybody who enters the clinic is currently screened for COVID-19 risk factors as well as undertaking a temperature check. Surfaces are regularly disinfected, and hand sanitizer is used frequently by staff and patients.
We are also staggering appointment times to reduce the number of patients in the waiting room at any one time, and for now we are asking partners and support people not to attend blood tests and monitoring appointments, and for patients not to bring children into the clinic.
There are still restrictions on the volume of elective surgery that can be undertaken in hospitals and day surgeries which includes egg collections for patients in IVF cycles, primarily to ensure that enough PPE is available, however, these restrictions are being progressively lifted.
Also, in Melbourne we have an affiliation with a local pathology centre in place for rapid testing should a patient become symptomatic of COVID-19 either during their cycle or in pregnancy, to ensure timely decisions can be made about treatment cycles.
Is it safe to be having IVF now and trying to get pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The current advice from the Fertility Society of Australia (FSA) is that there is no evidence to cease attempts to conceive. Based on what we know to date, there is no significant risk of mother-to-baby transmission, nor any effects on pregnancy or abnormalities in unborn or newborn babies. Newborns and infants don’t seem to be at increased risk of complications. Here’s a link to the FAQs the Fertility Society of Australia have put together on the topic.
But risk mitigation procedures (hand hygiene, social distancing) must be practised according to your state government advice if you are in treatment with IVF or already pregnant.
How are your patients coping with these changes?
This situation has certainly been hard on patients. Not only is COVID-19 affecting mental health in the general population, women waiting to start fertility treatment already felt like time was of the essence in their success with IVF. Feelings of disappointment, frustrations and distress are very normal and we have been reaching out to our patients frequently at every step of this process to keep them informed. They have been able to contact their fertility nurses, counsellor and specialist for emotional support as needed.
The majority of patients have been extremely understanding of the need to follow government advice with respect to delayed treatment, telehealth etc, and are happy to comply for the greater good of the community.
You mentioned that one change to help with social distancing is that partners and support people can’t come into the clinic for appointments and monitoring. Has that impacted your patients?
Yes, it certainly adds to an already challenging emotional time but again, I am very grateful that our patients have had so much understanding and patience throughout these unprecedented times and been very compliant with safety measures put in place.
Do you think these changes will stay in place more permanently?
This may be the new way of life for a while, until we can hopefully see the development of an effective vaccine against COVID-19. But as restrictions are slowly eased in a step wise fashion, we hope to see a gradual return to normal life.
What extra precautions should women be taking during their fertility treatment to stay healthy?
Much of the advice that I would offer to people having fertility treatment is actually the same as what is being recommended for the general population:
- Women should adhere to hygiene recommendations, frequent hand washing, avoid touching your face, cover your nose with a tissue if you sneeze etc. The specifics on these recommendations can be found on the Federal Department of Health website.
- Work from home if possible.
- Avoid non-essential gatherings.
- Get vaccinated for influenza.
- Download the Federal Government’s Coronavirus Australia App/COVID-safe app.
- Follow the advice of your fertility clinic.