Prof. Dr Human Fatemi, Medical Director of a leading IVF centre, IVI Fertility speaks about IVF treatments and how to stay safe during this period
What is the impact of COVID-19 on Assisted Reproductive Medicine?
In the past few weeks, several questions about COVID- 19 have surfaced, and social media has come up with many schools of thought. Unfortunately, most of these statements have limited scientific background. There is no long-term data on the impact of COVID-19 on assisted reproductive medicine.
Should ovarian stimulation be encouraged during such a situation?
Currently, we have two different guidelines from two distinct societies – one of them is ESHRE and the other one is the American Society of Human Reproduction. Both emphasize on the lack of information regarding COVID-19. Given the limited knowledge, they state that embryo transfer should be avoided and recommend not to initiate an ovarian stimulation, if avoidable. Due to the lack of information, medical professionals don’t know yet what risk COVID-19 can pose for an unborn child, especially in the first trimester. It is therefore suggested to postpone the stimulation until the next few weeks or until the peak of the crisis has passed.
Having said that, as humans we will always be exposed to one form of risk or another in the form of another virus or bacteria. However, as we are observing an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the current situation, it is recommended to postpone the stimulation.
Can an embryo transfer be possible during a lockdown?
For someone whose clock is ticking, time would be of essence. It is natural for them to go ahead with the transfer based on the discussion with their physician. However, if there is a lockdown, then the situation might have to be tackled differently. The government imposes certain criteria to be followed to visit a clinic during a critical situation which allows you to prceed. If you’ve started the process, it is vital for you to see the physician even during a lockdown. Currently, in the UAE, the lockdown runs from 8 pm to 6 am, allowing people to resume their day jobs. As such, in the current situation it shouldn’t be a problem.
Is it recommended to go in for an embryo transfer?
This is an important point to be addressed. If you have undergone an ovarian stimulation and your embryos are ready, you would certainly want to go ahead with an embryo transfer. However, we have no information on the risk of transmission in the beginning of the pregnancy. As such, if someone undergoes a transfer and the mother is tested positive, we wouldn’t know what the impact will be on the embryo. The first trimester is the most crucial part of a pregnancy. This is the phase where the organs of the baby develop, and as soon-to-be-parents, you wouldn’t want to have any complications during this phase. As such, it is recommended to avoid an embryo transfer and postpone it until the peak has passed.
For how long should the transfer be postponed?
It is important for patients to know that whether you postpone an embryo transfer for one year or ten years, it doesn’t make a difference. So, it is of absolute no concern if you plan to postpone your embryo transfer for some time. However, it is important to generate the embryos. As embryos don’t age, it is a good idea to keep them in a vitrified facility to ensure they maintain the optimum health.
How is team IVI safeguarding against COVID-19 in the interest of the patients?
Several measures are taken by IVI to ensure complete hygiene. From introducing special clothing before entering the lab to assessing the patients before a meeting, IVI is in complete control with regards to preventive measures.
While the labs are fully equipped and safeguarded, the clinics are also equipped with right practices to combat the spread of COVID-19. As several patients come to the clinic for blood test, ultrasound scans, or to seek consultation from the doctor, we have temporarily limited the visits to the clinic. This is done by cancelling embryo transfers, limiting the waiting time and encouraging telephone/video consultations.