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I Want a Baby: Travel with a Purpose!

Fertility Tourism

Whether the travel plan folder is labeled Fertility Tourism, Reproductive Travel, or Cross Border Reproductive Care, women and couples are leaving their home zip codes with “make a baby” at the top of their to-do list.

  1. The desire to have a child is not limited to income, age, sexual orientation, or geography.
  2. The research quantifies the fact that women from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) as well as from major European and American cities will travel to make a baby.
  3. The World Health Organization estimates that one in four couples in LMICs has fertility problems.

Making a Baby

It is estimated that 186 million couples in these countries (excluding China) have spent at least 5 years trying to conceive without success. While medical conditions are common to fertility problems in countries across the wealth spectrum, in some cultures, infertile women are often shunned by their families and excluded from social activities and cultural rituals. They are more likely to be victims of domestic violence or be divorced by their husbands. While infertility is just as likely to result from problems with the male reproductive system as the female, it is usually women who are blamed for the failure to produce a child.

Health Issue

Infertility is considered a grave health issue and impacts 8-10 percent of couples globally. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC – 2013) and Office of Women’s Health (2019) found that 9 percent of men and 10 percent of women aged 15 – 44 were dealing with infertility challenges in the US and the Reproductive Biological Endocrinology report (2015) determined that approximately 48.5 million couples experience infertility on a worldwide basis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 750,000 US residents travel abroad for health care each year. Fertility tourism currently controls less than 5 percent of the almost $55 billion (2014) medical tourism market; however, it is expected to nearly quadruple in size over the next few years. It is estimated that the global market of assisted reproductive technology has generated revenues of $22.3 billion (2015) with fertility drugs being a fast-expanding pharmaceutical field.

What is It?

People acknowledge they are facing “fertility issues,” when they are unable to have a clinical pregnancy after 12 months of attempts with intercourse. Infertility, or the inability to get pregnant, affects about 8-12 percent of couples looking to conceive, or 186 million people globally. In some locales, rates of infertility surpass the global average and can go as high as 30 percent depending on the country.

The main procedures are in-vitro fertilization (IVF), artificial insermination at home by a donor as well as surrogacy and associated with Assisted Reproductive Technology (ARTs).

Motivations to travel for medical attention are prompted by inadequate or no healthcare insurance at home and increasing demands for procedures that may not be covered by available insurance plans such as fertility treatment, gender reassignment, dental reconstruction, and cosmetic surgery.

Some travelers engage in fertility tourism when they recognize that better (or improved) fertility doctors are available outside their immediate community while others search for reproductive treatment outside their locale in order to circumvent laws, side-step legal/ethical/religious or other restrictions, and/or avoid long waiting lists.

Many nations don’t allow fertility treatments for same-sex couples or for single women. According to executives at the Institute for Development and Integration of Healthcare (IDIS Foundation), “the reasons why people travel abroad to look for fertility treatments can be classified into categories: cost, quality, and availability of treatment…”

However, even with the best doctors and the most advanced clinics the odds of having a child with the help of medical science are not great. For women under 35, only 36 percent will get pregnant per IVF cycle using their own non-frozen eggs (CDC). By age 41, it is less than two-thirds of that; after 42, the numbers fall by another half to 6 percent. The rates for IVF using a donor egg are higher but still lower than 50 percent. While the rates of success appear rosier on clinic websites, Carolin Schurr, a geographer at the University of Bern who studies the transnational fertility industry is leery of success rates advertised because “it really depends on how you calculate them, and there’s a lot of room to manipulate.”

Regardless of the data, fertility tourism is expanding as better healthcare is available at locales that require travel and the destination medical facilities offer patients state-of-the-art technology, innovative medicines, modern devices, improved hospitality, and personalized care at “value” pricing.

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About the author

Dr. Elinor Garely - special to eTN and editor in chief,

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