Chinese couples having babies overseas contribute to medical tourism

Demand for IVF is rising among the Chinese. Source: Shutterstock

MONEYED Chinese couples wanting a second child after China lifted the one-child-policy last year are resorting to outbound medical tourism to enhance their fertility.

Demand for in vitro fertilization (IVF) is rising among the Chinese, who reportedly have the lowest fertility rate in the world at 1.05 percent. In 2016, the government estimated China has a population of 1.38 billion.

While considered the world’s most populated nation, China’s birth rate, however, is falling. This creates conditions conducive for foreign medical tourism for Chinese couples seeking children, as the local healthcare for expectant parents falls short of the demand.

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In the 1970s, China introduced its family planning policy to check its soaring population by limiting most urban couples to one child. Couples in rural areas could have a second child if the first one was a girl. In some ethnic regions, couples in rural areas could have more than two children.

A major policy change at the end of 2013 allowed couples nationwide to have a second child if either parent was an only child. That limitation was abolished last year.

As China is strictly regulating IVF treatments, couples are pushed to seek fertility treatment abroad. Source: Shutterstock/TonyV3112

In 2016, there were about 500,000 Chinese people who sought overseas medical trips. Most of them sought fertility treatment next to plastic surgery and anti-aging treatments.

China’s National Health and Planning Commission reported an estimated 45 million Chinese suffered infertility problems last year. The declining birth rate in China surfaced in the 1990s and experts said it hit rock bottom now with almost “no signs of reversal.”

Changing lifestyles among the Chinese, including delayed marriage, has been tagged as the major reason why fewer babies were born over the years. Vices such as smoking and drinking, as well as higher levels of stress, were also said to contribute to the declining birth rate.

As China is strictly regulating IVF treatments, couples are pushed to seek fertility treatment abroad. This is further contributed by China’s barring of women to freeze their eggs for future use.

During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilized egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.

Wealthy Chinese prefer to get their infertility woes treated in the United States, Europe and Australia. Middle-income earners mostly choose Thailand and Vietnam as they are closer to home.

A round of IVF treatment in China costs CNY100,000 or US$14,700, Bloomberg reported

Citing a BIS Research, the publication stressed China’s market for IVF alone was worth US$670 million in 2016 and is expected to surge to US$1.5 billion in 2022.

The country had 451 sperm banks and medical institutions licensed to provide reproductive care in 2016, but they are not enough to meet the demand.

China’s market for IVF alone was worth US$670 million in 2016. Source: Shutterstock

Mark Surrey, co-founder and medical director of the Southern California Reproductive Center in Beverly Hills, said about 20 percent of its patients came from China over the past year.

“There is an increasing number of people in China who have the socioeconomic means to choose what kind of reproductive technology they would like,” Surrey was quoted by Bloomberg.

China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission vice-minister Ma Xiaowei said Chinese couples welcome the second child policy.

“Surveys show many couples from the generation born in the 1970s who were hesitant about having a second child during the initial period when the universal second-child policy was adopted are now hurrying to give birth to a second child so they won’t miss that last chance,” the official said.