HUNDREDS of Irish women desperate to start a family are being driven abroad because of a ‘chronic’ shortage of donor eggs.
That’s according to a new study from a fertility clinic in the Czech Republic, where Irish women are flocking each year to use eggs from anonymous donors.
In the last year alone IVF Cube in Prague has carried out 395 fresh cycles using donated eggs, with 150 of these patients coming from Ireland.
Dr Hana Visnova, medical director of the state-of-the-art centre, said: “Altruistic egg donors in Ireland are very hard to come by.
“There is a chronic shortage, and that’s one of the reasons why so many Irish women are coming over to Prague for treatment.”
Research carried out by the clinic revealed more than half of patients travelled to the country because the treatment they required was not available back home.
In the Czech Republic both sperm and egg donors are required by law to be kept anonymous.
They are however subjected to stringent medical checks and screened for health and genetic issues, inheritable diseases, as well as their medical records being kept on file for 30 years.
Dr Visnova, a celebrated specialist in assisted reproduction, said: “Many of the women we see are choosing to delay motherhood until later in life.
“After the age of 35 the quality of a woman’s reproductive eggs starts to decrease and fertility problems become more common.
“It’s therefore little surprise that many discover the only option is to use eggs from a younger, healthy donor. For some it’s the only way they can realise their dream of having a baby. Donor eggs have revolutionised fertility treatment for older women.”
In Ireland altruistic egg donors are scarce, and there is no national sperm bank.
And Dr Visnova says Government plans to bring in a register for donor-conceived children will only serve to increase the number of couples seeking treatment abroad.
Recently unveiled changes form part of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, and are expected to come into effect later this year.
At the moment if a couple chooses to undergo fertility treatment using donor eggs or sperm in Ireland they have the choice about whether they wish to do so anonymously, or whether they want the identity of the donor to be made available to the child.
Dr Visnova said: “Taking away this choice will surely mean the small market for donor eggs and sperm in the country effectively vanishes. It is inevitable.”
IVF Cube has a matching system for suitable egg donors, which helps to match donors and recipients as quickly as possible and meet criteria given by the treated couple.
In many cases, the treatment process can start immediately and embryo transfer can be performed in as little as 10 weeks.
Specialists at the clinic carried out a sample study into why their patients chose treatment abroad.
As well as access to donor eggs, many of those surveyed said they had ‘lost faith’ in their local clinics after repeated failure to get pregnant and say they preferred the methods on offer in Europe.
One patient wrote: “We felt we had to use our inadequate quality eggs [in Ireland]. We weren’t allowed to redeem more from other egg collection until we used the ones we had that would never have implanted.”
Another woman explained she sought treatment in Prague “for PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) treatment as I carry a genetic disorder so wanted it screened out.”
PGD helps to screen embryos for generic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease or Huntingdon’s disease.
Another explained she travelled to Prague because: “Success rates [are] higher, clinics generally better equipped, better quality service, and short waiting times and wide selection of donor egg candidates.”
It is estimated around one in six Irish couples will be affected by fertility problems at some point in their lives.
In the last six years, specialist at IVF Cube have reported more than 550 positive pregnancy tests out of more than 670 Irish patients. This gives a cumulative success rate of 83 per cent.
43 per cent were aged between 41 and 45, 31 per cent of the women were aged 36 to 40, and 14 per cent were aged 46 and over.
"Altruistic egg donors in Ireland are very hard to come by.There is a chronic shortage, and thats one of the reasons why so many Irish women are coming over to Prague for treatment"
Dr Hana Visnova