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Unregistered IVF clinics on the rise in Nigeria

The demand for in-vitro fertilisation is growing, but unregulated clinics handling egg donation is making the process financially exploitative for Nigerian women.

In Nigeria, the human egg donation industry is booming.

Despite having a high fertility rate, an estimated one in four Nigerian couples depend on in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to start a family.

During the IVF process, an egg is removed from a woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a lab. Once fertilised, the egg is returned to a woman’s womb to grow and develop. The process can be time-consuming and expensive, with multiple attempts needed before it is successful.

In Nigeria, this has typically been performed by specialised doctors in government-owned hospitals and registered private clinics. But the profitability of the process – a single IVF cycle in Lagos can cost nearly £2,050 – has seen at least 68 unregulated clinics begin offering this service.

In the UK, women who donate eggs to specialised fertility clinics can claim a minimum of £750 per egg.  By contrast, Nigerian women are getting far less – between £142-265 – for donating numerous eggs in unsafe conditions and by doctors who may not be adequately licensed to do so.

Why are women opting for egg donation?

Nigeria’s fertility rate sits at 5.3, meaning that the average Nigerian woman will have at least five children in her lifetime. In fact, she is expected to; in this region, a woman’s worth is often defined by the number of children she has.

But a large portion are struggling to conceive because they have been harmed by sexually transmitted diseases, infections from unhygienic abortions, or complications during previous births.

Unfortunately, a childless marriage can cause major strain on personal relationships, leading to ‘marital breakdown, mental illness, domestic violence, polygamy, adultery, and suicide amongst other consequences.’

Combine this social pressure with the country’s unemployment rate reaching a staggering 33.3 percent in 2020 (and rising still), and monthly minimum wage being capped at £53 – many women struggling to find jobs are turning to egg donation to survive.

How do these clinics operate?

The government’s ability to enforce protective policies and laws in line with the growth of Nigeria’s IVF industry has not been fast enough.

This has allowed unregistered fertility agencies to ‘actively recruit and screen potential donors’ by gathering health data from private clinics women are already registered to – completely unchecked.

Once deemed eligible for the procedure, women are provided with the self-administered hormone injections to stimulate egg production and scheduled in for future egg retrieval appointments at the clinic.

Reports of this experience are not always positive. Some women stated that when pain occurs (during what should be a relatively painless experience), their requests for female gynaecologists are denied and they treated with a ‘rude and condescending demeanour’ by male doctors.

Others describe the process as a ‘win-win’, because helping somebody have a child ‘feels like doing a favour and still getting paid’. With employment options low, many say earning a considerable income through egg donation seems ‘better than prostitution or stealing’.

Even when side effects like pelvic pain and severe headaches emerge, potential earnings take precedence over personal health. A further incentive allows women to increase their financial earnings by £35 for each person they refer to these clinics.

The importance of stronger regulations

Once donors see that they can earn what many Nigerians make in three months, they encourage friends to do the same, increasing their own profit. They also return to the clinic for further cycles.

Nigerian patients are encouraged to donate their eggs multiple times in a single year, which is worrying when experts say that it is only safe for women to make six donations in their lifetime.

Unregulated clinics will continue to risk women’s health by taking advantage of their donations – as well as potential parents who are paying large sums for IVF processes – until proper laws are being put in place.

A Nigerian lawyer spoke of the practice of unregulated clinics, saying ‘because the odds favour eggs from young women, most donors do this from a vulnerable, powerless, and penniless place. It is financially coercive, and it is important for there to be legal protection against exploitation for them.’

 

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