By Liz Henderson, Regional Vice President, APAC, Merck Group
More than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in many ways. With social distancing measures, a shift in work-life schedules and its financial impact on the global economy, the effect of the virus spans across financial and health issues, among others.
Distanced from childbearing
Image source: iStock
It has been observed that the inclination to have children may have lessened due to a reduction in work-life balance as adults shift to remote work.
With lockdowns and school closures, parents are facing the brunt of increasing workloads as they balance their work while tending to their children and housework. Trends have been observed that this could result in the deference of childbearing.
The psychological, emotional, and physical realities of the entire pregnancy journey have been made more complex with the implications of safe distancing measures in various countries.
For instance, women, including first-time mothers, have had to go for scans and prenatal appointments by themselves. Appointments for pregnancy checkups and ART cycles have also faced disruptions with patient restrictions on hospitals and clinic visits. These serve as obstacles and deterrents to the pregnancy journey.
With restrictions on social gathering sizes, couples may have delayed their wedding plans and by effect, marriage and parenthood.
In Singapore, the National Population and Talent Division reported that the number of citizen marriages in 2020 dropped to its lowest in 34 years, while citizen births dived to a seven-year low2. The Division cited postponed wedding plans due to COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings as a possible reason for the findings.
Lastly, the pregnancy journey can be an expensive one. Rising unemployment and job insecurity amidst the ongoing economic recession and uncertainty may cause potential couples and single parents to defer long-term commitments, including childbearing.
Positivity from the Pandemic
While these factors contribute to what seems like a bleak future for population growth, it is encouraging to see that the pandemic has spurred governments across Asia to adapt their fertility policies.
Governments are working to offset these issues, and in October 2020, Singapore announced a $3,000 baby grant for any children born during COVID-19.
Japan, starting last year, has begun an enhanced IVF subsidy and will reimburse costs for ART procedures from 2022. Malaysia has started to allow couples to withdraw their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to cover the cost of fertility treatments.
While these initiatives have several years to go before being able to produce measurable results, couples struggling with infertility and financial constraints can find comfort in knowing they have the backing of child-friendly policies to address falling birth rates.
As we ride through the pandemic, we also see alternatives for women who choose not to bear children during this time. In recent developments, women in Singapore can preserve their fertility as new regulations permit them to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons.
This comes along with the introduction of the Assisted Reproduction Services Regulations under the Healthcare Services Act in 2023 and opens new doors to family planning.
The pandemic has also been a major technology accelerator within the fertility industry. Today we see home delivery and telehealth, such as home treatment solutions that offer greater accessibility and convenience for clinicians and parents on their childbearing journey.
Image Source: iStock
We, at Merck, are also bettering our digital services so that we may continue to support patients and contribute to their pregnancy journeys – now and in the long run.
Early on, we saw the potential in leveraging digital health tools to improve in-vitro fertilization and assisted fertility treatments.
In January 2021, we formed a partnership with Phillips to employ advanced informatics and mobile, AI-enabled ultrasound diagnostics for the provision of more informative data to couples and HCPs about the choice and timing of fertility treatment.
This precision helps maximize the chances of conception. We continue to hone our digital technologies to allow for easier diagnosis of fertility issues, which advertently combats service provider access problems.
Additionally, we are working hard to advance our digital fertility health portfolio, which alongside the life-changing, recombinant versions of three natural hormones needed to treat infertility, will provide couples with fertility options across all stages of the reproductive cycle, and across varying digital platforms.
Overall, these efforts serve to encourage reproduction to tackle issues arising from aging societies in Asia and their stresses on the populations. For more on Merck’s fertility insights and initiatives in Asia, visit https://www.merckgroup.com/en/sustainability/health-for-all/building-asian-families.html
This article was written by Liz Henderson, Regional Vice President of APAC Merck Healthcare.