The story has been of medical tourism in India, but things seem to be changing with the flow, slowly, but steadily turning in the direction of Kenya.
In a trend that has both baffled and impressed the local medical fraternity, an increasing number of clients from Africa, Europe and United States of America are coming to Kenya to seek treatment for infertility, indicating the advances the country is making in this area.
With about five In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinics, Kenya is becoming a destination for couples seeking treatment for various forms on infertility. The successes rate and low cost of treatment in two of the clinics are some of key pull factors motivating this increased in inflow.
The pioneering IVF clinic, Nairobi IVF Centre, which has so far delivered more than 900 IVF babies in the past six years, receives the highest number of these clients. With a success rate of about 45 percent- which rivals that in the developed world-clients have been knocking on the clinic’s doors every day.
“After three failed attempts in Uganda. We went to the internet to search for another clinic. The high success rate registered at the Nairobi IVF, which was one of the best IVF clinics in Africa, made us settle on it,” says a couple from Uganda who are in the country to receive infertility treatment from the Nairobi IVF Centre.
The couple says they have been searching for a baby for the past six years without success. “I strongly believe Kenya holds the key to us becoming parents,” says the husband, who requested for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. Some of the clients coming to Kenya say the cost of IVF in the country is a lot cheaper than in their home countries.
“Even we take into account the air travel and accommodation, the amount charged here is a lot cheaper and yet the success rate is as good as in a developed country,” says a couple from the United States who are in the country for IVF treatment.
In Uganda, for instance, IVF treatment costs half a million while in Kenya is about Sh 300,000 per cycle. In the United Kingdom, the costs range between Sh 600,000 to Sh 1.2 million per cycle, while in the United States they range from Sh 590,000 to Sh 1.1 million. This means the cost in Kenya is less than a half of what is charged in USA, Europe and other African countries.
It this figures that explains the increased number of foreigners coming to the country to seek treatment for infertility.
According to statistics from the Nairobi IVF Centre, more than 270 clients from Africa and beyond have sought the services of clinic in the past three years. And the number continues to rise. The clients have come from Tanzania (60), Uganda (14), South Sudan (35), USA (13), Canada (6), Australia (4), Ethiopia (15), Eritrea (1), Germany (10), India (16), Mali (5), Nigeria (16), Netherlands (13), Zambia (3), France (3), Rwanda (8), and Senegal (2), among others.
At the Aga Khan University Kenya Fertility, IVF and ICSI Centre, Dr Prafull Patel says their clients are increasingly coming from Africa, United Kingdom and United States. About a third of the patients they receive whenever they have a treatment cycle are from outside Kenya. Dr Patel says their success rate stands at about 35 per cent.
“Every treatment cycle we get about four clients from Tanzania, three from Uganda, and at least one from United Kingdom, Ethiopia, and Sudan among other countries,” says Dr Patel.
Dr Joshua Noreh, the pioneer of IVF in the country adds: “IVF is a time, money, and emotionally consuming venture, making clients very sensitive to the success rate registered and the costs charged by clinics.”
Dr James Munene, the Head of Cardiology at Kenyatta National, say the costing done in Kenya for many diseases and conditions such as infertility and open heart surgery is based on the economic status of the locals, but which ends up being very cheap for a foreigner due to non-price discrimination policies.
Rubi L. Ayieta, the Executive Director of Surrogate Kenya, a company that offers legal advice to IVF clients seeking surrogacy and donated eggs and sperms, says some of the clients she has interacted with also come to sample Kenya’s tourist spots.
“In addition to getting medical assistance, the clients are able to tour some of the best sites in the country, for a song. So to them is killing two birds with one stone.”
According to Noreh, some of the clients come from countries which have no IVF services. Those coming from countries which have similar facilities, he adds, are choosing Kenya for easier access to eggs and sperms donated by Africans.
“We have Kenyans in Diaspora coming back for treatment here because it is easier to get a donate egg or sperm from a fellow African than in the foreign countries where the population is predominantly white.”
“I think as a country we have done well in playing in the same league as some of the developed countries that have been offering this service for decades. A Kenyan IVF clinic registering success that is similar or even better than that in some of these countries is really encouraging,” says Dr Noreh.
Dr Patel agrees, adding that the high standard of care offered at Aga Khan Hospital is pulling the patients to the hospital and the IVF clinic. In their country, patients from United Kingdom have to undergo expensive IVF treatment or be put on the waiting list of the government’s National Health Service that offers the service free of charge, but which take long before a person is attended to.
With Kenyan IVF clinics charging about Sh 300,000 and the flight time taken between the two countries being manageable, clients from United Kingdom prefer to get services here, he adds.
But even as the IVF sector grows and foreign clients flock to clinics to seek services, Kenya still lacks a legal framework to regulate the operations of IVF in the country. The local clinics are using guidelines from other countries with established IVF practice in combination with the general medical code of conduct and regulations.
The Nairobi IVF Centre, for instance, has adopted guidelines used in commonwealth countries, particularly those from United Kingdom, where the first test tube baby, Louise Joy Brown, was born in 1978.
“In as much we are using internationally accepted guidelines, we need home-grown ones that tell us what is wrong and what is right within our context,” says Dr Noreh.
“Such a law or guideline will also help deal with clients who come with outrageous demands, which when we refuse to fulfil, say there is no Kenyan law prohibiting that. If a law is in place you can refer them to it,” he adds.
Dr Patel says the Aga Khan University Hospital has crafted their own guidelines which they use to administer IVF services.
Sources within the Ministry of Health indicate that a Task Force that was set-up to collect views from Kenyans and make recommendations on the nature and depth of IVF legislation is did not complete it work due to financial constraints. It is the recommendations of the Task Force that were to be translated into policy and law.
Lack of resources and political will and jostling in the ministries of Public Health and Sanitation and Medical Services is said to have worsened the matter. Failure to offer allowance to Task Force members also compromised the pace at which businesses was-and still is- conducted.
As things stand now, the task force is yet to do more public hearings across the country and write a comprehensive report. It is estimated that the remaining phases will cost not less than Sh 15 million.
By the time the team’s work came to halt, it had held public hearing in at least in three districts, and visited South Africa and India to learn about their IVF guidelines and legal framework.
The public hearings had managed to gather information on some of the key issues Kenyans want addressed. Many of the concerns were around the cost of the IVF treatment, and handling of the embryos not transferred in the woman’s uterus.
Majority of the participants at these forums recommended the establishment of IVF clinics in government hospitals in order to make them cost- effective and accessible to infertile poor Kenyans.