Slovakia's booming fertility tourism
For millions of couples around the world, the inability to have children is a personal tragedy. The World Health Organisation warns that for many of them, the private agony is compounded by a social stigma, which can have serious and far-reaching consequences, including social isolation and suicide. Slovakia has gradually become one of the most attractive destinations for "fertility tourists". And, it is not only its affordable prices of infertility treatments that account for this boom in reproductive tourism. Martina Grenova reports from Bratislava:
The World Health Organisation estimates that an average of one in ten couples suffer from infertility problems. Today, up to 17% of couples suffer from this disease in Europe. In confronting the problem it is important to get the right diagnosis. One of the countries known for its good results in treating infertility is Slovakia.
"They don't just come because we are so good. Infertility tourism is a new phenomenon all over the world."
Jozef Valky is the head of the Iscare centre of assisted reproduction in Bratislava. The Bratislava branch of the international network of fertility clinics shows a relatively high success rate of treatment, reaching 45 to 50%. Patients all over the world come here to undergo treatment, using the latest methods of assisted reproduction and at prices far lower than in their own countries. Another factor is Slovak legislature. Doctor Valky explains:
"The problem is that different countries have different laws and regulations. Some countries such as Italy, Austria, and Germany have very restrictive laws. This means that not all procedures are allowed. So people come here to avoid those restrictions in their own countries."
Despite attempts by the conservative Christian Democratic Movement to ban research on freezing embryos by law, Slovakia still remains a country with unusually liberal fertility legislature. The situation is similar in the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries.
I spoke to an Iranian couple living in Germany has tried in vitro fertilization several times at the clinic in Bratislava. Despite the fact that they have not been successful so far, they decided to try another method.
"I basically have the feeling that doctors have time for their patients. It's not like an automatic medical factory that you go into, pay, and then go out of. Here, you have the feeling that the doctor is available and cares."
Johann and Renata, a married couple living in Belgium, have been successful in their efforts. Thanks to the assisted reproduction centre in Bratislava, they now have a baby son.
"As far as the technical procedures are concerned, those in Slovakia are quite similar to what we have here in Belgium. But from a practical point of view it would be much more difficult to have this procedure done in Belgium. My wife lives in Slovakia and it makes more sense to do it there. Of course, there is also a big difference in the price."
The price, quality treatment and more liberal legislation are the factors behind so-called reproductive tourism. Despite the fact that Slovakia is considered to be a predominantly Catholic country, it now ranks among the top destinations for infertile couples. Its liberal legislation in terms of assisted reproduction enables doctors to try the latest methods. Thanks to treatment in the Slovak Iscare centre for assisted reproduction in Bratislava, 945 children have been born.