Last Updated on Thursday, 4 November, 2021 at 11:51 am by Andre Camilleri
As more couples and women are searching for fertility options, a new IVF clinic is opening in Malta. The Malta Business Weekly speaks to Dr Christine Schembri Deguara, the first UK accredited Maltese specialist in infertility and IVF abut her new venture, her experience and the stigma couples face.
Dr Schembri Deguara, you moved back to Malta from the UK after being the first Maltese doctor to specialise in infertility. Why did you decide to set up a clinic here after your experience working abroad?
I had left Malta around 15 years ago to achieve my specialisation and obtain exposure to medical experience which may be limited locally. I was given the opportunity to join an advanced, fully comprehensive, state-of-the-art IVF centre at home, close to family and friends. By joining Hope Fertility I am able to provide a high level of service and care locally.
Hope Fertility and the IVF clinic will offer various fertility treatments. What makes your services unique compared to other IVF services?
We are a fully accredited, IVF specialist team who is permanently resident in Malta, enabling patients to access treatment without delays. Our embryologists have over 15 years’ experience in their field and have held senior embryologist posts within specialised NHS IVF units where some of the best UK success rates have been achieved. Our laboratory is one of the most advanced in Europe.
What are the major concerns or fears of women who want to make use of IVF? How will you help women deal with these concerns?
The treatment itself is probably one of the first worries. Women or their partners are taught how to inject themselves with the medication. We are here to reassure and support them throughout their journey.
Patients also raise concerns about whether it is possible for gametes to be mixed mistakenly! We work through double witnessing systems, where gametes are checked and signed by two accredited professionals every step of the way.
We are well aware that private IVF will have financial implications for our patients. We are so confident in our experience and service provision that we expect to be able to offer full reimbursement programmes in approximately 70% of patients who visit us.
What are the main reasons that women turn to egg freezing? Why is it important for women to undergo fertility tests in this regard?
Women and couples may choose to delay starting a family for various reasons. Medical reasons include the necessity to preserve fertility due to conditions such as premature ovarian insufficiency, inherited or sporadic genetic conditions or people about to undergo cancer therapy.
Some people delay starting a family due to study or career aspirations, fears about how employers would, or do, react to pregnancy. The impact of part-time work, childcare hours, costs of living of having a child, relationships that are unstable or recent break-ups. Some women are uncertain whether having children is for them, but want to maintain their options. The reasons are all varied and justifiable in their own right.
How do you help address women’s/couple’s fears regarding success rates?
I strongly believe in forming a professional relationship of trust with my patients. Ensuring a safe environment where the trust between professionals and patients has been built, through honest advice, unbiased information and respect is imperative. I aim to discuss every case in detail with my patients, preparing them with information, their realistic chance of success and supporting them through the whole process.
What is some of the stigma that women/couple’s face when using IVF? How will you help them?
I think we need to divide social stigma and the feelings and challenges that couples themselves go through when diagnosed with infertility. Often, feelings of personal “failure” and guilt are experienced by individuals who have had a diagnosis of infertility. We see this in couples even with “unexplained infertility” where despite all results being normal at face value, they still haven’t conceived. This usually leads to self-blame, feelings of denial or anger and inevitably stress on the relationship itself. I believe that being open about the results, setting a firm treatment plan and course of action and being able to support and help them not only on a medical level, but even a psychological one, is imperative.
The second commonest fear is that of something being wrong with their IVF-conceived baby. There is no known associated risk of increased anomalies purely associated with the fertility process itself, but, knowing that the patient population requiring treatment in the first place may be suffering from various medical issues, both male and female, these may be reflected in the quality of the embryos.
Couples usually discuss the fear of having to take stimulation drugs and any possible long-term effects on the body. There are no long-term effects definitively linked to short-term fertility treatments.
Malta is still a country where religion forms an integral part of society, families and in some cases, people’s lives. We will always aim to tailor treatments to our patient’s particular case and this will make them at ease with a process that will impact them both physically and psychologically.