COVID-19 is a term that we are all well acquainted with as the pandemic has not left even a single life unaffected. Being first of its kind, there wasn’t much information available about the virus, and the only possible way to curb the spread was to impose a lockdown and break the chain of transmission. Healthcare sector suffered a major blow. Initially, it couldn’t be decided whether it was safe to continue ongoing treatments or conduct pre-planned surgical procedures. Eminent medical bodies throughout the world suggested hospitals postpone non-essential planned procedures. This included fertility treatments as well. The step was taken with the sole aim of ensuring that all the hospitals would be stocked with necessary supplies to deal with COVID-19 emergencies. As a result, fertility treatments in some of the leading IVF centres were put on hold.
This has been a major reason for concern for couples who were undergoing fertility treatment since before the lockdown, as well as those who were planning to start it in the near future. Although doctors left no stone unturned in reaching out to their patients via video and telephonic consultations, continuing the ongoing fertility treatments has been a difficult task with less availability of medicines and inability to reach out to your doctor for your follow-ups in person.
In its short-term advisory on COVID-19 Pandemic, The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI)has mentioned
“For women undergoing assisted reproduction, who have already begun ovarian stimulation, care can be continued after counselling with the couple. The decision to transfer embryos in all cycles whether fresh, thaw or recipient cycles in not suspected patients can be individualized after proper counselling and as per the couple’s wish. If there is a diagnosed positive COVID-19 infected patient or if there is a strong suspicion based on travel history and/or clinical features, embryo transfer should be deferred”
The news surely is a source of relief for many couples but this does not mean that we can take the ongoing situation for granted. All the preventive measures are to be taken to alleviate the risks of contraction. Top IVF centres have commenced their services making sure all the safety guidelines are met, so as to ensure a safe COVID free premises. It is still pertinent to follow all the guidelines like wearing a mask and practising social distancing when you step out for your consultations and follow-ups.
IFS (Indian Fertility Society), ISAR (Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction) and ACE (Academy of Clinical Embryologists) have recommended all units to prioritize and implement necessary measures to protect their patients as well as staff members on priority and alleviate the chances of COVID-19 spread. They further suggest that units providing infertility services should be prepared to modify their services in terms of available framework and human resources to meet the demanding situation.
In the joint IFS-ISAR-ACE recommendations on resuming /opening up ART services, it has also been mentioned that
- High-risk patients (those with hypertension, diabetes, on immunosuppressants or transplant patients, with renal, liver, lung disease or medical conditions) should be deferred for treatment during this period.
- Third-party reproduction, including donor with fresh oocytes and surrogate cycles, may be avoided now.
- ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) cycles for fertility preservation in cancer survivors to be started at the earliest.
- Low-risk cases that would require minimum visits to the clinic to be taken.
- Patient prioritization to be based on:
- The impact of delay on patient prognosis due to medical factors, such as age, ovarian reserve or endometriosis.
- The impact of treatment delay on the mental and emotional well-being of patients.
No doubt, the whole scenario has been quite overwhelming, but it is important to be gentle on yourself. If you have any questions or second thoughts about your treatment, you can connect with your doctor via video consultation and explore all the possibilities and options.