Fertility Treatment And The Pandemic

How does the pandemic affect the way we talk about fertility treatment? Fertility rates, population numbers, stalled migration and investment in IVF are part of a bigger conversation and the Fertility Society of Australia is an active partner in this debate.

Australian population no longer growing

As fertility experts, our primary focus is on helping women or couples. They may struggle to conceive and at the individual level, fertility treatment is all about bringing a baby into the world. Women often defer having children until they have pursued a career or found the right partner.

Fertility treatment is relevant more than ever in the context of decreased population growth in Australia. For almost 30 years Australia has seen the size of its population grow steadily. With the pandemic, this has come to a halt. The flow of international students has stopped, overseas migration has stalled and this results in the economy slowing down.

Prof Luk Rombauts

Prof Luk Rombauts

President Fertility Society

Then there is the bigger picture in the field of fertility. There is a drop in the Australian fertility rate, meaning the number of children Australian women will have on average.

It is now 1.6. We know that, in order to just maintain the general population level in Australia, the fertility rate should sit around 2.

With the current fertility rates, we are looking at a rapidly ageing population. It means that we will have less young people who can pay taxes to support the older generations.
 

Maintaining birth rates

As the Fertility Society of Australia, and as a community of fertility specialists, anything we can do to help maintain birth rates is good for society as a whole.
 

Prof Luk Rombauts

President Fertility Society
Prof Luk Rombauts

Health-related dollars spent on fertility research and treatment for Australian families can be seen as a smart investment in maintaining birth rates and population growth.

When the general public looks at what is sometimes called the ‘fertility industry’, it is worth noting that there will always be this bigger picture. When investments are being discussed, there is a clear benefit to the individual families who want to have a baby but there is also a clear connection with the current size of our population. The most recent ANZARD report shows that there is now one IVF baby in every classroom, and for women over the age of 35 every tenth baby is conceived through IVF.

Furthermore, the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey in 2017 clearly showed that most Australians want more children than what they actually have. This “fertility gap” could lead to a demographic crisis with profound societal and economic implications and therefore, it is imperative that our efforts are focused on closing it.

fertility rates and covid

Future IVF babies have a net economic value

Critics have often focused on IVF treatment and its associated costs, as a significant burden on the health budget. Australian studies have illustrated that every IVF baby produces a net economic benefit to society.
 
Prof Luk Rombauts

Prof Luk Rombauts

President Fertility Society
For women or couples who use the services of a fertility specialist, helping Australia maintain its population and adding more taxpayers is the last concern on their mind. But when the fertility sector is criticised and called a health burden, it is worth looking at the real outcomes at a state or national level.
Babies born through IVF grow into new family members and add joy to many individual lives. But in the larger context, we now know that we will need to look at all options to help reverse the decline of the Australian fertility rate. With the pandemic predicted to reduce population growth from immigration for the foreseeable future, it makes sense to have a renewed appreciation for the contribution of fertility treatment in this context.
 

Partnering with governments

As the Fertility Society of Australia and New Zealand, we have always actively engaged in partnerships with various government institutions to look at this bigger picture. In Australia for example, and compared to many other places around the world, there is a generous and active approach on behalf of the Federal Government, to help couples who struggle with infertility.
fertility rates and covid

Prof Luk Rombauts

President Fertility Society
Prof Luk Rombauts

New conversations like the one at state level in Victoria for example are interesting - efforts are being discussed to make IVF more accessible to those who would normally not be able to afford it. We help individuals, and we help the country maintain and grow its population numbers.
Clearly, the Fertility Society of Australia would like everyone to have access to fertility treatment services and if it is a discussion our leaders are willing to have, we would definitely want to be part of it.
 

How political is this conversation?

Others might say: Why don’t we just let more people into the country to maintain and grow our population growth numbers? It’s a given that migration has always been an important pillar in Australia’s population growth strategy. And we are definitely not against migration.
 
Prof Luk Rombauts

Prof Luk Rombauts

President Fertility Society
Because of the pandemic, immigration levels are predicted to drop significantly in the next few years. When migration picks up again, it contributes to our population growth and so does a solid strategy to help couples conceive. So it’s not one or the other.
In a context where we are forced to rethink how we look at fertility rates and population growth, it is mainly about avoiding the burden of an ageing population. We simply need young people to make sure our nation will continue to thrive. So we believe that it’s about having all options on the table and part of that conversation is about improving equitable access to IVF treatment. That is where we are ready to be a partner in the discussion. It’s not about the politics - it’s about helping people build a family and create net benefits for society as a whole.