13 April 2011

Dream of safe conception

New hope has been given to HIV positive couples wishing to start a family with the recent opening of a fertility clinic that caters specifically to their needs.


New hope has been given to HIV positive couples wishing to start a family with the recent opening of renowned fertility clinic, Vitalab's first dedicated blood borne viral disease (BBVD), HIV and Hepatitis B and C IVF/ICSI lab in Gauteng. The separate HIV laboratory, where procedures such as in-vitro fertilisation take place, offers assistance to couples in which one or both partners are positive to realise the dream of having HIV negative children. And while strict patient selection criteria for treatment are in place and have to be met, more and more infected men and women are being given the gift of starting their own families.

HIV-positive live long, full lives

"As a society, we've come a very long way from the fear ridden perceptions we once had of HIV/Aids when the disease was first discovered. With the correct treatment and responsible lifestyle changes, HIV positive patients can lead a long and happy existence with an average life expectancy. There is no reason why their lifestyles cannot include the joy of raising a family, particularly given that the risks of transmitting the disease to unborn babies has now been largely minimised," explains Vitalab Fertility Clinic's Dr Merwyn Jacobson.


Indeed, with a combination of antiviral therapy, caesarean section delivery and not allowing the newborn baby to be breastfed, the risks of infants being infected by their mother have been successfully reduced to less than one in 50. This is in stark contrast to the 20 to 45% chance that an HIV-positive mother will pass the infection to her child without intervention, which is where Vitalab comes in.

If, on the other hand, a hopeful father is infected and his partner is HIV negative, his sperm can be washed by separating the seminal fluid, which contains most of the cells carrying the virus, from the sperm. The sperm are then "re-suspended" in a neutral fluid and tested for the presence of any signs of the remaining virus. If the sperm is declared clear of the virus then fertility treatment can commence.

 HIV-positive couples seek fertility treatment

"The increase that has been seen in HIV positive couples seeking fertility treatment has certainly precipitated the need for such a lab. It is generally held that equal treatment should exist for all, which is why we at Vitalab felt a moral obligation to offer a facility that is separate and as such, in line with legislation, to assist HIV positive couples with safe conception," says Jacobson.

Already well-known for its professionalism, Vitalab offers HIV positive couples a responsible approach to successfully achieving the conception of an HIV negative baby. A dedicated team of a specialists, counsellors and embryologists play an important role in achieving the desired outcome. Furthermore, a detailed evaluation of both partners is undertaken prior to the assisted reproductive technology (ART) journey taking place.

By way of example, in men the exposure category, treatment history and other infertility factors are taken into account, along with a general physical examination and investigations into genetic factors and various diseases. Females undergo gynaecological examinations, as well as investigations into their thyroid, the possibility of rubella and their blood group, among other things prior to being approved for fertility treatment.

 Reproductive counselling

In addition, couples are required to participate in reproductive counselling. This is undertaken to test the strength of the hopeful couple's marital relationship, management of their illness, implications of starting a family, as well as the challenges associated with losing a partner at a potentially young age. Once this has been concluded, both partners are fully briefed on the pros and cons of the procedure they are seeking to undertake with respect to their HIV positive status.

"While strict inclusion criteria are in place to protect both the potential parents, as well as the life of their unborn child, our overriding ambition is to enable infected couples to conceive safely and give birth with a minimal risk of cross-infection. We believe that everybody has the right to have their own children if that is their wish, and we can help them achieve this dream without compromising the health of their partner or the baby,” concludes Jacobson. - (Health24, April 2011)

Press release issued by Vitalab Fertility Clinic


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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