Fertility specialists call for more funding to help couples get IVF in New Zealand

If a couple has "unexplained infertility", they currently have to wait five years before being eligible for free IVF.

"The five year waiting list is very harsh," says Dr Guy Gudex, Medical Director at fertility clinic Repromed.

He believes it should be reduced to three years particularly for women aged over 35.

Dr Mary Birdsall, Group Medical Director at Fertility Associates, agrees that the five-year waiting list needs to come down. 

“There’s lots of agitation about getting that changed. We would love to see that changed." 

If a couple has a known “severe” issue that’s causing infertility then they will qualify to go on the waiting list after one year so long as other criteria in a number of areas including age and Body Mass Index (BMI) are met.

Dr Gudex says for many couples, IVF is their only hope.

"We’re dealing all the time with severe endometriosis, blocked tubes or severe sperm problems. These people have no chance of getting pregnant naturally. They really have to do IVF. We appreciate the health dollar is stretched in these times but we’ve been very patient with no funding increase that would allow us to do more treatment in approximately 15 years," he says.  

The Ministry of Health says the current advice is "that as couples with unexplained infertility have a higher chance of conceiving naturally than those couples with a diagnosed fertility problem the priority for treatment should be those with diagnosed fertility issues."

Age is the biggest issue impacting on fertility in New Zealand.
Age is the biggest issue impacting on fertility in New Zealand. Photo credit: Getty Images.

It goes on to say "the current evidence is that after five years the chances of conceiving for couples experiencing infertility are similar to those who have a diagnosed infertility issue; after five years the chances of their conceiving are lower, and treatment is thought to be necessary."

Dr Mary Birdsall is calling for more Government funding for fertility treatment.

"It would be great for people with unexplained infertility not to have to wait five years; it would be great for other couples not to have to wait a year,” she says. 

"It would be fabulous if same-sex couples didn’t have to prove biological infertility. There are a lot of inequities in the current scoring system that we would love to see changed."

Currently for publicly funded IVF a woman must not have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 32 while a man’s BMI must be less than 40.

Dr Gudex says Maori and Pasifika patients don’t access publicly-funded IVF as much as the rest of the population and concern has been raised that the BMI criteria could be a reason for this.

“There’s quite good evidence that BMI is not an accurate assessment of obesity and perhaps a BMI of 35 specifically in Maori and Pasifika patients would be fairer,” he says.

Dr Birdsall says the Australian Government is more "generous" with fertility treatment.

"If you have a Medicare card and you’re living in Australia you can get unlimited, heavily subsidised IVF treatment. So women in Australia do way more IVF than women in New Zealand," she says. 

Dr Gudex says because of that increased funding Australia has about four to five times more IVF per head of population than New Zealand.

He says while there is some "out of pocket" payment in Australia it can be right down to two or three thousand dollars, compared to 11 or 12 thousand dollars in New Zealand.

"In New Zealand it’s completely free or it’s all out of pocket," he says.

The Ministry of Health says the last time the Government increased funding for IVF was in 2004/05.

That was when DHB’s received funding to extend IVF treatment from one IVF cycle to a second IVF cycle for couples where the first cycle didn’t result in a live birth, provided the couple still met the clinical priority assessment criteria (CPAC).

While modern medicine has provided many options when it comes to having a baby, age is still the biggest issue impacting fertility.

In New Zealand the average age a woman has her first baby is around 30.  

With women having babies later in life, Dr Gudex says age should be a factor when it comes to funding priority.

"At the moment there is no priority based on age. A 25-year-old will be of the same priority as a 38-year-old. With increased funding we could give some priority to women aged 35 +," he says.

Dr Birdsall believes nature designed us to have babies in our early twenties but not many people are really doing that these days. 

"As a society we’re doing it later. Everyday I will have a conversation with a woman that says 'look I’m really sorry but your only opportunity to have a baby is going to be using someone else’s eggs'."

She says her biggest piece of advice to women wanting to someday have a family is to get information as early as possible.

"I think all women should be out there measuring their AMH level, so that’s a simple blood test that gives you a guide as to how long you’ve got to have babies. Then you can make some great informed decisions so you get the number of babies you want."