The assisted reproduction sector, bankrupt by Covid-19: trusts its recovery to postponed treatments

The assisted reproduction sector has also suffered the impact of the pandemic. Billing of private clinics has fallen by about 6% in 2020, up to 460 million euros. Now, the sector looks towards its recovery and trusts the treatments that were postponed due to the health crisis caused by Covid-19.

The pandemic has meant “a slowdown in the upward evolution that this sector had registered in recent years,” explained Vicky Yagüe, head of sector studies at DBK Informa. And it is that, it is necessary to bear in mind that these clinics had to close between two and three months at the beginning of the sanitary crisis.

Due to the slowdown in activity, 14,000 assisted reproductive techniques were discontinued in all Spain. Translated into possible births, it could mean 4,000 fewer children, according to the data provided by Antonio Urríes, director of the Assisted Reproduction Unit of the Quirónsalud Zaragoza Hospital.

“When the activity resumed, we observed an acceleration in the recovery of all services,” added Yagüe in conversation with Invertia. “We forecast a rebound in demand for this year, mainly because the treatments that were postponed in 2020 will be recovered.”

From the National Association of Assisted Reproduction Clinics of Spain (Anacer), its president, Ignacio Mazzanti, explained that “the activity has not yet recovered to levels before the pandemic, among other things because there is a shortage of international patients due to travel restrictions ”. But nevertheless, they hope to return to the rhythm prior to the health crisis in 2021.

Specifically, the consulting firm foresees a 6.5% growth by 2021. By 2022, the increase will be around 4%, “because the economic impact of the pandemic can affect the demand for assisted reproduction services,” argued Yagüe.

According to DBK Informa data, in 2018 the growth of this sector was 5.5% and in 2019 5.8%. Despite the fact that pre-pandemic levels will not be reached in 2022, Yagüe has indicated that this industry “still has great growth potential.”

Green shoots

Companies are also beginning to see these green shoots after closing 2020 with a general drop in turnover, although the same situation has not occurred in all companies.

In the case of Ovoclinic, the Malaga company did not stop its activity and assures that it closed 2020 with “excellent results”. The company launched a telemedicine service so that patients could continue or start their treatments from home.

For his part, the medical director general of IVI, Antonio Requena, has pointed out that “after the pandemic our activity recovered in a very positive way, being similar to the previous year”.

Too Quirónsalud has returned to activity. “At the moment, we are on a rebound and performing the treatments that were not done last year,” Urríes said.

And the growth potential is also seen in the acquisitions. On June 24, Axes Health, an international strategic holding company focused on the development and management of top-level healthcare centers in the fields of fertility and women’s health, announced the acquisition of Reproclinic and Ovoclinic Barcelona.

The objective is to merge both entities and create a first-rate center in the center of Barcelona, ​​under the name of Reproclinic Barcelona, ​​as explained by the company in a statement.

The sector

The peculiar sector has a small business fabric. From clinics with a presence in all regions of Spain to companies with a couple of offices. Three of the most important at the national level are IVI, Ovoclinic and Quirónsalud, whose managers have explained to Invertia the ins and outs of the assisted reproduction business based on their experiences.

IVI was founded in Valencia in 1990 within the Hospital Clínico de Valencia where a team of professionals proposed to create a private reproductive medicine group. In 2017 it merged with the RMA and became the largest assisted reproduction group in the world. It has more than 2,500 employees and is present in nine countries with more than 60 clinics.

In Spain there are 280 centers specialized in assisted reproduction.

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In the case of Ovoclinic, the company was founded in Marbella in 2012 and little by little it is expanding its network of clinics until it is present in Madrid, Milan, Barcelona and Ceuta. In 2013 he created his own egg bank under the name Ovobank, the first egg bank in Europe. It currently has 120 workers compared to the 12 with whom the company started.

Both clinics match the profile of the client who comes to hire their services. 75% of the patients correspond to heterosexual marriages and / or couples. Almost 20% are women who consider facing motherhood alone, a percentage that has grown “exponentially” year after year. These are women who go alone, who want to preserve their fertility or who are not fertile.

The Quirónsalud spokesperson also agrees: “In recent years we have had a very significant increase in women without a male partner, although they mostly go to clinics heterosexual couples“.

The reasons for attending these types of clinics are very diverse. “Failed treatments in other assisted reproduction clinics, the waiting lists for treatments in other clinics or the fact of having its own egg bank that allows optimizing treatments and not having a waiting list to search for the ideal donor”, they explain from Ovoclinic.

Urríes has also highlighted the increase in the age at which women decide to become mothers, which currently stands at 39 years, whereas ten years ago the average was 35 years. With this rise in the middle age, the Quirónsalud spokesman recommends “saving the ovules to have a chance for the future.”

The process

“Any woman or couple who come to our center will have a first visit that will help us to diagnose the problem they may have. After this, there is a recommendation treatment so that in the end it is the patients who, with the medical advice, decide jointly with their doctor ”, the general medical director of IVI, Antonio Requena, explains to Invertia.

When patients decide on treatment, according to Ovoclinic, the coordination of the entire team begins. Its objective is that the embryo fertilizes and that, when transferred in the patient’s uterus, it is implanted and results in pregnancy. The work continues with the follow-up and, if the patient wishes, with the freezing of the embryos so that they can be used in future treatments.

When it comes to talking about prices, the thing varies since it depends on multiple factors. “It depends on the type of treatment and the needs of each patient,” they explain from IVI. In their case, they have all the treatments allowed by law: in vitro fertilization, egg donation, artificial insemination or preservation of fertility. The situation is repeated in Ovoclinic, which figures in 600 euros for artificial insemination treatment.

Two professionals attending a patient.

Two professionals attending a patient.

Both clinics agree on the financing plans they have to pay for the treatments. “All those national patients who have to undergo treatments with an amount of € 2,500 or more they can opt for financing for up to five years ”, details Ovoclinic. In the case of IVI, the financing is personalized for up to 12 months without interest or commissions.

With success rates exceeding 85%One of the keys to good results is technology. “Technological advances are decisive in the success of treatments: new generation incubators, systems time-lapse, new culture media… ”, lists IVI’s medical general director. For its part, Ovoclinic has Ovomatch, an app based on a mathematical algorithm to search its extensive database for donors.

Advancement of the law?

The current Spanish law 14/2006 on assisted human reproduction represented a scientific and technical advance with respect to the rest of the laws of other countries. This is the opinion of the companies consulted, the main ones in the sector. They agree that Spain is one of the most advanced countries in this sector. “Patients from Italy, France or Switzerland come expressly to undergo their treatment,” advance Ovoclinic.

Despite the benefits that the sector boasts, companies like IVI ask to go further. “Perhaps the regulation of uterine surrogacy could be considered in selected medical cases, but in general we propose very few changes to our law,” says the general medical director of IVI, Antonio Requena.

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