INFERTILITY is on the rise globally and is extremely common in Trinidad and Tobago, says Dr Catherine Minto-Bain, medical director and specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Trinidad and Tobago IVF and Fertility Centre.
Minto-Bain estimates that 30,000 or more people are dealing with infertility issues here at home. Since the TTIVF and Fertility Centre became operational in 1997, Minto-Bain and her team have attended to more than 10,000 patients. TTIVF leads the Caribbean region in safe and effective fertility treatments.
To mark Infertility Awareness Week (April 19-24) Minto-Bain is lifting the veil of shame and secrecy from infertility and debunking popular misconceptions that actually do more harm than good for those trying to have a baby. Her goal is to open the discussion about infertility and reassure those who are dealing with this common medical condition that there is hope.
“Infertility is a huge problem and it’s also a hidden problem because a lot of people don’t talk about it. It looks like T&T is similar to other developing countries in that we have a higher rate of couples experiencing fertility.
Strangely, the number one cause in T&T is male sperm problems which is not what people have in their minds when they think about infertility. What we found was that over half the couples that were studied had more than one thing causing their infertility,” says Minto-Bain who estimates that between one in five or one in six couples in T&T struggle to have a baby.
Anyone can suffer from infertility, regardless of race, religion and economic status. Here at home, the attitudes toward infertility have improved somewhat over the past 15 years yet there continues to be a lack of awareness which is very difficult for people who are dealing with infertility, says Minto-Bain.
In the US or the UK most people have heard of infertility, they may not be necessarily good about talking about it but there is not as much misinformation and blaming going on. But the same cannot be said about T&T, says Minto-Bain.
“I think in T&T we have so many problems with people who have their own opinions about what causes infertility, there are those who are insensitive about what they say and assume that their friends or daughter can just have a baby without considering that she might be going through infertility,” says Minto-Bain.
Facing many challenges
Couples struggling to have a baby face many challenges. Infertility can lead to psychological and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, guilt and feelings of worthlessness. Adding to the mental trauma and stigma, such ones also face financial barriers.
Neither government nor insurance covers the costs of tests and fertility treatment. When the TTIVF and Fertility Centre did a survey back in 2019 it was revealed that out of 2000 participants only seven percent believed they could afford IVF treatment if it was necessary. The majority of the respondents (68 per cent) said that without insurance cover they would not be able to secure funding to get IVF treatment.
The specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist at TTIVF has observed that couples often waste precious time either because of the stigma attached to infertility or they are scared of the unknown.
Several end up seeing doctors who often don’t have the training or understanding to deal with medical conditions like infertility. Therefore Minto-Bain urges couples who have tried to have a baby but have not been successful to visit the TTIVF & Fertility Centre.
“When we did our research study we found that the average length of time people have been trying to have a baby is four years. That’s a long time.
We notice that people go to doctors who don’t have infertility training and are advised all sorts of things by family and friends,”she laments.
One of the biggest issues which concerns Minto-Bain are doctors who prescribe testosterone to improve their patients’ sperm counts.
“Doctors ought to know the science; testosterone is a male contraceptive. There is ample evidence that testosterone drops sperm counts,” stresses Minto-Bain.
Still there are doctors and pharmacists in this country who believe that since testosterone is a male hormone then it must be good for sperm. The medical director at TTIVF spoke of one patient who expressed frustration that he had to spend an entire year ridding his body of testosterone which a doctor had prescribed to treat his low sperm count.
“As a doctor it’s never good to hear of colleagues who are doing something that you know damages people. I feel sadness and frustration and I would love to do more to correct that,”she says.
Among the misconceptions about infertility is the popular belief that stress causes infertility or miscarriages.
“But that myth is wrong,” says Minto-Bain. “Women and men don’t cause their own infertility, there are a range of causes of infertility from genetics to the environment, but stress is not one of them.”
Over the past few months, the TTIVF has seen a threefold increase in persons coming to the clinic. The pandemic has made people think about what is most important in life, that and the fact that borders remain closed have prompted couples struggling with infertility to look at options here at home.
To learn more about the fertility treatments and services offered at TTIVF, go to www.trinidadivf.com