By Philip Gacheru, Director of Operations, Fertility Point Kenya
In Kenya, the birth rates have dipped to an all-time low in the past decade. In 2021, the birth rate in the country was 27.976 births per 1000 people, a 1.1 per cent decline from 2020.
More than anything else, this is reflective of a timing shift, with more that first-time mothers giving birth in their 30s or 40s rather than in their 20s or teens. This timing shift is driving demand for fertility treatment such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), IUI and egg vitrification, and if these treatments can deliver, the birth rate will rise again.
However, today, fertility treatments still have a success rate of below 50 per cent globally, and on average, it only accounts for 2 per cent of live births. So, the big question remains: How will the industry scale?
This is where fertility treatment technology comes into the picture. Here are the three major ways in which tech will change and improve fertility care.
- Creating Access
In general, there are soft and hard costs that impede access for fertility care.
The soft costs include the huge amount of time it takes to research and find solutions and plan for a clinic visit, not to mention the hours spent managing one’s own treatment.
Then there are the hard costs. In Kenya, an average IVF cycle can be around Kes 600,000 and, for most, is an out-of-pocket expense rarely covered by insurance.
Tech will address the soft costs by lowering barriers that impedes information dissemination, including but not limited to digital consults, tests you can order online that negate a clinic visit, and automated booking systems into clinics for treatment. These services will reduce friction to getting fertility care.
Telemedicine will help replace clinic visits when and where possible, reducing cost and creating greater access.
In view of the hard costs, financial innovation will be helpful. There are already a number of insurance companies including the government’s National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) that are reworking their policies to cover fertility treatment as well as fertility loan solutions from financial companies. These will give way to more customized and innovative financial products for fertility treatment as the industry grows up.
By addressing the complexity and cost barriers, tech will open up basic access to fertility care.
- Better Experience
Like in many of other fields, the promise of tech in healthcare is a better user experience, both figuratively and literally. Technology can provide personalized care, convenience and around the clock support.
Traditional healthcare is highly impersonal and mostly self-managed outside of the doctor’s office, including administration and medication. With digital consult and telehealth, patients can experience connected, on-demand support from within the app of their choice. They can access their personal fertility information, profile and medical history all in one place. Partners such as fertility experts, embryologists, pharmacists and even insurance companies will be able to share information and connect their information to create a holistic support hub. Patients will even be empowered with medication tracking and reminders to ensure they’re following their fertility treatment plans, improving efficacy.
- Driving Outcomes
Largely, the most important way tech will change fertility is by affecting outcomes.
Big data is changing everything including fertility. It will allow fertility experts to crunch the numbers to predict which protocols would work best for patients. A host of such factors would include individual’s personal fertility profile, including health history, age, and ethnicity among others.
Data analytics will also improve clinical decisions. Big data will be used to train algorithms to improve the timing of procedures such as egg retrieval and the selection and implantation of embryos.
Today, the market is largely built around a single cycle of IVF. In the future, tech will be able to price risk and deliver packaged solutions with 80 per cent or greater probability of success, and by opening up the capital markets for this asset class, these packages can be accessed at monthly rates that will still be affordable to the average consumer.
And that is how tech will turn around the downward trend in birth rates.