Fertility centres in S'pore need Australian certification by 2013

SINGAPORE - Assisted reproduction centres in Singapore now have until January 2013 to have themselves certified by Australia's Reproductive Technology Accreditation Committee.

This means that the centres have to make sure anyone giving or receiving sperm, eggs or embryos has a meeting with a member of the Australian and New Zealand Infertility Counsellors Association.

However, there are not many specialised counsellors here, fertility experts told The Straits Times. At least two centres are suspending donor sperm services as they fear they will not be able to find a counsellor in time to meet the deadline.

There is no local accreditation committee, the paper reported.

Tougher standards for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment have been introduced following the 2010 sperm donor mix-up.  Then, a woman conceived using the wrong man's sperm sample during her IVF treatment following a mix-up at Thomson Fertility Centre.

Fertility centres are already facing a shortage of samples. Between 2005 and 2010, only six women donated eggs to the Singapore General Hospital, and only eight men gave samples to its sperm bank, reported The Straits Times.

As a result, fertility centres often obtain their samples from overseas.

To add to the problem, fertility centres are also confused over how the accreditation will work as on top of complying with the Australian standards, they also must follow Singapore's Health Ministry guidelines on licensing terms and conditions.

There is also the financial burden of getting a licence from Australia which costs at least $75,000 a year and the cost of flying in auditors from Australia to get accreditation.

Centres may have to reduce multiple pregnancies, as regulators see them as an undesirable outcome. However, by reducing the number of embryos transferred into patients, it could reduce pregnancy rates, and lead to more costly IVF cycles.

A cycle of treatment costs between $8,000 and $15,000, and public hospital patients can apply for subsidies up to $3,000 a cycle.

Thomson Fertility Centre and National University Hospital have received their Australian certification so far, according to The Straits Times.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson told the paper that it may consider giving centres more time, depending on their progress or restrict services until full accreditation is obtained.

She also clarified that if the two sets of guidelines overlap, the Singapore ones take precedence.

natlim@sph.com.sg

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