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Embryo Genetic Screening in Singapore: A new trial may bring new opportunities

If you’re among the many people out there who have had trouble conceiving a child, you know how frustrating the entire process can be. What should be a loving and intimate experience for you and your partner can end up becoming a scientific affair that really takes the magic out of adding to your family. Furthermore, although we all know that there are options available to assist couples with reproduction, the entire In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process can be both exhausting and potentially very expensive. However, after going through the whole painstaking ordeal of becoming pregnant despite fertility issues, the thrill and joy of it all can be almost overwhelming. When it comes to pregnancy, though, there simply is no time to rest on one’s laurels. Steps need to be taken throughout the duration of a pregnancy to ensure that the baby comes out healthy. Just ask the 37 year old woman whom the Straits Times reported on recently that underwent IVF herself.

After initially becoming pregnant with twins following a round of IVF, one of the babies miscarried, to the great lament of everyone involved. The reason this case was highlighted is that it was an example of how embryo screening can be used to prevent scenarios like this from occurring. And, thanks to support from the National University Hospital (NUH), women may soon have a chance to take advantage of such genetic screening. Here, we talk about the implications of the NUH’s trial screening program, and how it could relate to your health insurance.

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The trial

NUH’s coming trial is all about allowing women who are undergoing IVF to choose only the highest quality embryos for implantation, thus ensuring the best possible chances for a successful pregnancy, labor and delivery. The trial itself will be rolled out only to women who, by most people’s standards, have the odds stacked against them when it comes to getting pregnant. The women in the trial must be over the age of 35, or had at least two failed implants or pregnancies.

This restriction is made due to the fact that women over the age of 35 are substantially more likely to have eggs with abnormal chromosomes, which will then turn into embryos with abnormal chromosomes and potentially cause major health issues in a newborn. This is actually fairly common, as anywhere between 30 and 60 percent of human embryos will have abnormal chromosomes. By the time a woman is 44 years of age, this number will even jump to 90 percent.

Previously this type of genetic screening has been outlawed in Singapore.  As it has been, the IVF system available in Singapore has had a 20% success rate. However, as the practice has been utilized effectively in other countries like Australia, England, China, Malaysia, Thailand and the United States, Singapore has been more willing to give embryo genetic screening a chance.

Genetic screening

The most common reason for failed IVF in Singapore is an embryo having abnormal chromosomes. So what actually goes into screening embryos? Well, once they have been prepared in the lab, embryos are then examined and given a letter grade. Even after the grade is given, though, there are many defects that will still be unknown. This is where the additional screening comes in, where cells are removed from each embryo to screen them for problems.

At this point – before any embryos are transferred into the mother – the embryos can undergo preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) or preimplantation genetic screening (PGS). The difference between these two procedures is that PGD examines embryos in order to identify if a specific condition is present, while PGS tests for general normalcy of an embryos chromosomes. PGS is especially effective at identifying a disorder like Down’s syndrome, which is caused by an irregular number of chromosomes. PGD, on the other hand, can catch specific disorders present in an embryos genes, including hemophilia, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, or a host of others.

It should be noted here that parents will not be able to use this technology in order to dictate the gender of their baby, nor features such as eye or hair color. It is strictly for rooting out potential health problems in newborns; despite some people’s fantasies regarding the potential for ‘designer babies’. Furthermore, even if properly screened and healthy embryos are then transferred into a mother, there is no guarantee of a successful pregnancy, although the odds of success will be up to 65% greater.

Helping Singapore. Helping you.

In the end, this trial could lead to the proliferation of embryo screening across all of Singapore. On a micro level, this is an excellent proposition for would-be parents that want to ensure not only that they are able to have a child, but that any child they do have is healthy. On a macro level, this could only be good news for Singapore as a whole. This is because the city’s average age is rising rapidly since people are not having children at replacement levels. Therefore, anything that aids or encourages pregnancy is a step towards addressing this issue.

If you think IVF is right for you, then you may want to look into the possibility of having the embryos screened. Whether or not you will be able to is one issue, but paying for the procedure is another entirely. If the process becomes open and legal for all in Singapore, it may be added into Medisave coverage, which would help lower any costs, but if it isn’t an option for you in Singapore, you may have to travel elsewhere if PGS or PGD is something you really want. This could lead to travelling to some pricey areas. For example, in the US, it is possible to pay US$9,000 for a single round of IVF, but screening embryos can add another US$4,000 – $9,000 to the cost. Additionally, even if the procedure is fully opened up in Singapore, expats in the city-state that don’t have access to Medisave will have to avail themselves of the area’s private hospitals and the higher prices that come along with them.

With this in mind, it is always a good idea to have international health insurance coverage that includes fertility benefits. This will allow you to cover costs for IVF and associated screenings, while at the same time affording the freedom to receive treatment anywhere in the world! For more information on how an international health insurance plan can address your needs, contact Pacific Prime Singapore today. Our agents are ready to provide you with free plan comparisons and price quotes.

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Content Strategist at Pacific Prime Singapore
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.