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Kiwis forking out tens of thousands on fertility treatments to start family - 'There's not good funding'

Around $50,000 in five years - that's how much money Fertility New Zealand's president Juanita Copeland paid to start her family.

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Fertility New Zealand's president Juanita Copeland and fertility specialist Dr Guy Gudex kick off a Breakfast series on the issue, which impacts one in four Kiwis. Source: Breakfast

But she's not the only one out of pocket trying to conceive. 

Infertility is often a silent struggle for both men and women, but it is a common one, with as many as one in four New Zealanders impacted.

In about 40 per cent of infertile couples the problem is a female factor, in the same percentage it is the male, then for the remaining 20 per cent there is a joint problem or the cause is unknown.

Studies show ethnicity, income and education play no part in infertility.

But miscarriages are fairly common, affecting 10 per cent of pregnancies in women under 30. Between 35 and 39, that number jumps to 20 per cent with each pregnancy.

"My own experience with infertility was quite lengthy, we had a number of reasons why we couldn't conceive and over the course of about five years we went through about four rounds of IVF and a couple of frozen embryo transfers," Copeland told Breakfast this week.

"Because of our circumstances, because of the reasons we couldn't conceive, we didn't qualify for public funding for our treatment for quite a number of years, so we funded that ourselves to the tune of about $50,000 over the course of our five-year experience."

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University of Otago’s Professor Greg Anderson has found cells in the brain that transmit stress signals to the reproductive system. Source: 1 NEWS

Dr Guy Gudex, who has decades of experience in the area, also told Breakfast: "There's not good funding in New Zealand for public services for IVF.

"Probably $15 million a year across the whole of New Zealand and most places now have about a one-and-a-half-year wait," he added.

"So if you're 38, 39-years-old and need publicly funded IVF it's a problem because at the same time, year-by-year your fertility is decreasing, chances of IVF are decreasing."

Health Minister Andrew Little told 1 NEWS there are no plans to bolster funding.

"Publicly-funded fertility treatment is available and DHBs make decisions about access to that treatment. Typically, treatment over two cycles is available," he said.

"Given current pressures on health funding, the Government has no plans to make changes in that area."

The Ministry of Health said access to publicly funded fertility treatment is determined by a clinical priority assessment criteria (CPAC) tool that is specific for fertility services, and that each patient is considered on a case-by-case basis.

An expert group of fertility specialists developed the CPAC and update it as needed to reflect changes in clinical practice in New Zealand.

"The CPAC combines objective criteria related to the chance of pregnancy and social criteria, such as duration of infertility, previous children or voluntary sterilisation. This system is used to ensure fairness and transparency, and that services are provided to people with the greatest need and ability to benefit from fertility treatment," a Ministry of Health spokesperson told 1 NEWS.

"The current advice received by the Ministry from the expert group is that as couples with unexplained infertility have a higher chance of conceiving naturally than those couples with a diagnosed fertility problem, the priority for treatment should be those with diagnosed fertility issues. 

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There is hope the kit will help men get over some of the embarrassment surrounding the issue. Source: Breakfast

"The Ministry works with DHBs to ensure that people in New Zealand are provided with high quality public health care. However, with finite resources, DHBs must balance and prioritise government funding for health services so it is sustainable in the long term. This is the rationale behind determining a person’s eligibility for publicly funded fertility treatments based on their fertility.

"The Ministry recognises that the financial burden of accessing private fertility treatments can be distressing for people who are struggling to conceive."

In 2004/05, DHBs received additional funding to extend IVF treatment from one IVF cycle to a second IVF cycle for couples where the first cycle didn't result in a live birth, so long as the couple still met the CPAC access threshold.

However, IVF treatments are one of several fertility treatments that are publicly funded in New Zealand. It is a clinical decision which treatment is most appropriate, the Ministry spokesperson said.

Now the experts are wanting to raise awareness about the issue so Kiwis can prepare.

After having her daughter, Copeland came to Ferility NZ with the goal of normalising conversations around infertility.

"I found it the most life-impacting experience of my life, it consumed everything about me for a number of years. It was all I could think about," she said.

"It did change me as a person.

"I always thought I would have children and I think that is the thing about infertility, is that we take our fertility for granted and when we suddenly start to try and build a family, either as individuals or with a partner, and that sort of control and choice is taken away for us, when you're told that you need intervention to conceive, it's incredibly confronting and really scary."

Gudex agreed, and said an important message he wanted to get across was making young people aware of declining fertility and that IVF doesn't always work.

Gudex, who also works as a gynecologist helping women with unusual smear tests and painful periods, said he's incorporated talking about fertility into his work, even on women as young as 18.

"Sometimes people 18, 19, 20 look a little bit taken aback but I don't think it hurts to plant that seed at all, I mean, we're talking to people at 18, 19 about saving for retirement which is in 40 years time, no harm at all in planting these seeds," he said.

Copeland also urged Kiwis to think about family planning like any other milestone in life, including career and financial goals.

"Thinking about how many children you'd like to have and working backwards from that. In terms of age you can do that."

She also suggested talking with family about any troubles with conceiving or early menopause.

"You can think about how you'd like to tackle those and educate yourself on some of the ways that you could go about protecting your fertility and protecting that dream of having a family."

Send your news tips to Rebecca.Moore@tvnz.co.nz