Straits Times, June 27, 2005
JB fertility centre draws S'pore couples
By Salma Khalik
A MALAYSIAN fertility centre has opened in Johor Baru to cater to childless couples from Singapore.
Twenty-six couples from here have already turned to the place to realise their dream of having a baby, and the first birth is expected next month.
The 15-month-old Damansara Fertility Centre's selling point is its high in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) success rate, which puts it among the best in the world.
Its main clinic in Kuala Lumpur, which opened in 1994, boasted a delivery rate of 41 per cent in 2003, based on the number of embryos transferred.
It is 65 per cent in terms of babies delivered, as some were twins and triplets.
In contrast, the success rate of IVF centres in Singapore, going by Health Ministry figures, ranges between 16 per cent and 28 per cent, based on the number of babies born.
Aside from IVF, where the embryo is fertilised in the laboratory before being transferred to the womb when it is a few days old, Damansara also provides other types of aided conception such as donor eggs and sperm.
The clinic has produced more than 850 test-tube babies in Malaysia, or about a third of all such babies there.
Damansara's resident gynaecologist in Johor, Dr Surinder Singh, however, accepts that despite its success rates and variety of services, the centre is at a disadvantage because Singaporeans cannot use funds in their Medisave to pay for IVF treatments done outside the country.
Couples here can withdraw $6,000 for their first IVF attempt here, and $5,000 and $4,000 for their next two.
The cost of using this method to try for a baby in Singapore ranges from around $6,000 to $13,000 each time.
Damansara charges between RM12,000 (S$5,280) and RM16,000.
But cost is rarely the main concern when choosing a fertility centre, pointed out Dr Singh. 'The commonest reason is its success.'
This is because the procedure is time-consuming, expensive and painful. And each failure reduces the chance of subsequent success. This is why the use of Medisave funds is allowed only for the first three tries.
Factors that skew success rates include the age of the woman - the younger she is, the better her chances of having a baby using IVF.
In the United States, where more than 80,000 attempts are made each year, women 35 years and younger have a 35 per cent chance of success, while those 42 years and older have only a 4 per cent chance.
The average age of Damansara's women is 35.2 years.
Dr Singh stressed that Damansara's success is no fluke. One reason is that it is focused on fertility treatment.
For instance, its operating theatre was designed for such procedures, with the room's humidity and temperature mimicking conditions in the womb.
And there is no stinting on equipment and medical supplies.
Its staff are so familiar with the IVF procedure that they are able to move the fertilised egg from the incubator into the womb in a very short time.
'These are important factors in increasing the pregnancy rate,' he said.
He also pointed out that the centre has large sperm and egg banks, so much so that one Singapore couple who had waited a year for suitable donor sperm in Singapore found four possible matches at Damansara, without having to wait.
Couples end up waiting for suitable sperm because it has to come from a man of the same race, with similar height and weight as the husband.
The centre also provides genetic diagnosis of inherited diseases like muscular dystrophy, haemophilia and Down's syndrome, Dr Singh said.
He added that while it does not encourage it, the centre could guarantee the gender of a child.