The theme for Canadian Infertility Awareness Week 2020 is “We See You”. This year, more than ever, we see you and we hear your concerns. Given the current, temporary suspension of fertility treatments across Canada due to COVID-19, we surveyed patients to see how they were affected by these changes. We have had more than 650 responses to-date and these fact-based insights informed the letter we sent to the Ontario Government on April 28 asking for their help in prioritizing the reopening of fertility clinics. You can read a copy of our letter below.
We realize that this pandemic is an unprecedented time for everyone, and it’s important to start by commending your Government for the steps it is taking to protect Ontarians. Your leadership and steady hands in health and finance play big roles in that. Thank you.
As Board Members of Conceivable Dreams, a grassroots patient organization, we advocate for affordable access to assisted reproductive treatment (ART) through safe, high-quality, evidence-based care. Infertility is a medical condition that impacts 1 in 6 Ontarians and ART services have been put on hold due to COVID-19.
The regulation of fertility services varies from province to province in Canada. In Ontario oversight is provided by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Clinic practices during this pandemic are guided by the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society which serves as a collective voice for clinicians, scientists, and health professionals in the field. Putting the safety of patients and staff first, clinics closed day-to-day services in solidarity in the face of COVID-19. They postponed or canceled all treatments, moved to telemedicine, froze embryos from completed in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles already underway, and suspended diagnostic testing and elective procedures and surgeries. An exception was those young victims of cancer awaiting life-saving treatment for whom fertility preservation was urgent. For patients suffering from infertility, these treatments are time-sensitive given that: 1) women’s fertility declines steadily with age and 2) the Ontario Fertility Program caps IVF (the most successful treatment) at the age of 43.
As such, when the Government deems it safe to begin reopening the economy and our healthcare services, we (Conceivable Dreams and thousands of patients across Ontario) are asking for you to prioritize fertility-care as a service to be opened during Stage 1.
From April 19 – April 26, we conducted a survey to understand the impact of COVID-19 on infertility patients in Ontario. In just one week, we heard from over 450 patients in Ontario who were either in treatment or about to start treatment at the time the pandemic started. We offer you these highlights as evidence to help guide your decision-making process:
- Almost every patient (98%) of respondents had the course of their treatment altered.
- More than three quarters of patients had their treatment cycle cancelled (56%) or delayed (21%).
It is important to note that more than half (58%) of these patients believed that the measures their clinic took in order to protect patients and staff were important. However, post COVID-19 they were concerned about a great magnitude of spin-off impacts, mainly: the emotional burden of infertility (81%) the passing of time and their increasing age (77%), and financial insecurity (35%). It is clear patients are stressed about their ability to access future treatment and the likelihood of achieving a pregnancy on many levels as a result of this pandemic. For an even better sense of how these women feel, please see the addendum of their descriptive responses on the next page.
It is compelling that more than 83% of patients believe fertility clinics should be considered an essential service and be open right now. In addition, almost all (91%), believe the reopening of fertility services should be an important priority when the Government begins to allow the reopening of healthcare services.
Finally, you may be interested to know that more than two-thirds (67%), reinforced that post COVID-19, the ability to leverage the Ontario Fertility Program (OHIP funded IVF) will be even more important to their family.
We ask that when the Government begins to reopen services in the province, fertility-care services should be designated as a Stage 1 priority to support the thousands of patients depending on you . We would be happy to connect with any members of your staff and Ministry personnel if they require more information. We are entirely flexible at their convenience.
On behalf of our Board, thank you for your consideration. We look forward to hearing from you and our continued work with the Government on this very important issue.