SINGAPORE: One in two women in Singapore does not know they’re considered infertile if they’ve been trying for a year and are not pregnant.
This is according to one of the key findings of a recent study on 1,000 married women aged 25 to 40 from 10 Asian countries, including Singapore.
The women had tried at least six months for a baby but were unsuccessful.
A hundred respondents from each of the 10 countries participated in the study commissioned by pharmaceutical company Merck Serono.
The study was conducted last year and ended early this year.
Called "Starting Families Asia", the survey was done in collaboration with the National University Hospital’s Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Division.
Two in three women in Singapore does not know obesity reduces their chances of getting pregnant.
The same number of women are unaware that the chances of having a baby when they’re 40 years old are reduced, compared to when they’re 30.
In fact, two in three women believe that infertility is "God’s will" while 42 per cent of whom attribute it to "bad luck".
Two in five women in Singapore also do not know that even if a man can have sex and produces sperm, he may be infertile.
Close to 70 per cent of women in Singapore who’ve been trying for babies for at least six months don’t know where their nearest fertility clinic is.
A third of women in the region also don’t realise that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t guarantee fertility.
Still, it’s not all bad news.
The National University Hospital’s Professor PC Wong, a fertility expert who worked on the study, said: "The good thing is that 70 per cent of women do not feel embarrassed about seeking fertility treatment. So there are some surprises and there are some reassurances. Also, about 70 per cent of women said they have a desire to be a parent."
But there are challenges.
The perceived high cost of fertility treatment is a key reason why Singaporean women do not seek help and this perception is consistent across Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan.
Other barriers to seeking fertility treatment include the perception among women that their employers won’t allow time for it as well as emotional problems that come along with the treatment.
But Professor Wong explains that in Singapore, the government subsidises up to three cycles of invitro—fertilisation treatment which can cost S$3,000 each at a public hospital.
Patients will also be able to claim S$6,000 from their Medisave for the first cycle, S$5,000 for second cycle and S$4,000 for the third cycle.
This essentially means out of pocket payment for patients seeking IVF help is not sky—high.
And recent studies have found women in the western world to be just as ignorant about fertility issues.
Professor Wong said: "There was a couple of recent studies and one is only a few months ago. When they surveyed female undergraduates in a university in California and another study in a university in Canada, and they found that among the female undergraduates there, their awareness of fertility issues is just as low as this survey shows.
"They may have read or heard about it, say, in school, but at that time, that piece of information is of no relevance to them because they were not trying to conceive. So, this type of information is only relevant to couples trying to conceive."
Professor Wong said continual education is needed.
One baby step for couples getting married is to attend a talk on the impact of age on fertility.
Professor Wong said: "Maybe when women get registered to get married, we should have an arrangement with ROM (Registry of Marriages) during their marriage preparation course; we should include a segment telling them the importance of age on fertility."
Professor Wong also suggested that couples below the age of 35 see a doctor if they fail to conceive after trying for a year.
Professor Wong said: "I think couples less than 35 years old who’ve been trying to conceive for a year or more and have not been successful should go and see a doctor. Now if the woman is more than 35 years old, then I think six months will do. If they’re not getting pregnant after six months, they should start getting medical help because we know that after (the age of ) 35 and certainly 40, the chances of fertility treatment is markedly reduced."
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