As China tries to slow its population decline, women like Chen Luojin could be part of the solution.
The 33-year-old divorcee lives in Chengdu, capital of southwestern Sichuan province, which legalized child registration for single women in February, something China plans to implement nationwide to combat record birth rates.
The changes mean that single women can take paid maternity leave and receive child benefits previously reserved for married couples. Basically, Chen could legally access in vitro fertility (IVF) treatment at a private clinic.
She is now 10 weeks pregnant.
“Becoming a single parent is not for everyone, but I’m happy with the decision,” said Chen, who works in logistics. “Likewise, whether or not to marry is up to each individual. We have liberalized the policies here and I know a lot of single women are doing IVF.”
Concerned about China’s first population decline in six decades and its rapid aging, government policy advisers proposed in March that single, unmarried women should have access to egg freezing and IVF treatment, among other services. Chinese leaders have not publicly commented on the recommendations.
The nationwide liberalization of IVF could trigger increased demand for fertility treatments in what is already the world’s largest market, putting a strain on limited fertility services. Some investors in the sector see it as an opportunity to develop.
“If China changes its policy to allow single women to have children, it may lead to an increase in demand for IVF,” said Yve Lyppens, business development manager for Asia-Pacific at INVO Bioscience, who is awaiting regulatory approval to launch its IVF technology. in China after signing a distribution deal with Guangzhou-based Onesky Holdings last year.
“However, if there is a sudden increase, China will have an even bigger capacity problem.”
China’s National Health Commission (NHC) did not respond to a request for comment on liberalizing access to IVF, although it has previously acknowledged that many young women are delaying their plans to marry and to have children, noting that the high costs of raising and raising children have contributed to declining marriage rates.
The NHC’s Sichuan branch did not respond to questions from Reuters about whether it would offer IVF treatment to all women in government hospitals. When it announced the changes in February, the Sichuan NHC said they were aimed at “promoting balanced and long-term population development”.
Shanghai and the southern province of Guangdong have also allowed single women to register their children, but IVF services for single women remain prohibited.
HUGE UNMET NEED
Lyppens said most IVF clinics in China were operating at full capacity before the COVID-19 pandemic and will likely find themselves in a similar situation once the country lifts virus-related restrictions. There is no estimate of the number of patients who want but cannot access treatment, but some women who receive it say they spend hours waiting for their turn.
“The queues at the hospital are very long,” said Xiangyu, 34, a married woman undergoing IVF in Chongqing, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Chengdu. She spoke on condition of partial anonymity for confidentiality reasons.
Chinese hospitals and clinics, both public and private, provide around 1 million IVF treatment cycles – or cycles – per year, compared to 1.5 million in the rest of the world, according to academic journals and industry experts.
The price of a cycle – which involves medication for ovarian stimulation, egg collection, lab insemination and embryo transfer – is regulated in China. It ranges between $3,500 and $4,500, about a quarter of US prices.
China has 539 public and private IVF facilities, and the NHC said it aims to have one facility in place for 2.3 million people by 2025, bringing the total to more than 600.
China’s IVF market, including treatment, drugs and equipment, is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 14.5% in the coming years, nearly doubling to 85.4 billion yuan (12, $4 billion) in 2025 from 49.7 billion yuan, research house Leadleo estimated in a report last year. Vivian Zhang, general manager of Merck China, which provides fertility products and services to IVF clinics nationwide, said cities in less affluent inland provinces are rapidly developing fertility centers similar to those in Beijing and Shanghai. .
“There is a huge unmet medical need for Chinese patients,” Zhang said, adding that she was “very optimistic” about the IVF market in China.
Gender power imbalances, the stigma in Chinese society that single pregnant women face, and the lack of social surveys make it difficult to quantify total demand and its magnitude if reforms were to be introduced in the near future. , according to industry experts.
But powers of attorney do exist.
Camila Caso, platform manager at Recharge Capital, which invests in fertility clinics and technology, said 500,000 IVF cycles are provided to Chinese women every year at clinics in other countries, a third of all cycles outside of China.
Many Chinese women prefer overseas clinics if they are single, or want to have various genetic tests or choose the sex of the child, Caso said. A three-decade-old Chinese law, designed to address a gender imbalance, prohibits parents from learning the sex of a fetus.
The country implemented a rigid one-child policy from 1980 to 2015 – the root of many of its demographic challenges that helped India become the most populous nation in the world. The limit has since been raised to three children.
Caso said his fund is currently rolling out two clinics in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and aims to have around 15 in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore in the next three to four years. The fund does not invest in China due to uncertainty surrounding IVF incentives, she said, adding that Recharge could capture Chinese demand through the Southeast Asian market.
Lu Weiying, a Chinese policy adviser and chief expert at the Women’s and Children’s Reproductive Medical Center in southern China’s Hainan Province, said she submitted a proposal to the country’s leaders in March to give single women access to egg freezing, an increasingly common procedure. people were looking for.
“People in China are getting married and having children much later than before, which has led to increased infertility, miscarriages and an increased risk of fetal abnormalities,” she said.
MORE CHOICES FOR WOMEN
In the United States, the average success rate of an IVF cycle is 52%, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.
In China, the rate is just over 30%, partly due to high levels of stress among women and the rise in the average age for childbearing, said Lin Haiwei, director of the Beijing Perfect Family Hospital, specializing in fertility treatments. Foreign experts claim that the quality of some IVF labs in China is also lower.
Improving access to fertility services alone will not solve China’s demographic problem, with factors ranging from low income to expensive education, a weak social safety net and high gender inequality necessitating more attention, according to population experts.
But it can still have an impact.
Lin estimates that already about 300,000 babies are born in China through IVF every year, or about 3% of newborns.
“I believe that a related policy will come out in the near future, which can satisfy many people’s desire to have a child,” Lin said.
While more and more Chinese women have postponed or given up on having babies in recent years, many still want to become mothers.
Joy Yang, a 22-year-old international finance student from Hunan province, said she first heard about IVF on TV and wanted it to be liberalized nationwide. , in case she does not find a partner but her financial situation allows her to have a child.
“There are women who don’t want to get married but still want to have children. I could choose to do IVF,” Yang said.
($1 = 6.8894 Chinese yuan renminbi)
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)