South Korean health practitioners call for trial of traditional medicine as infertility treatment
Government supported in-vitro tech has a 33 per cent success rate
By Han Eun-kyung
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of regular, unprotected intercourse. However, as this inability is often not absolute, the term “subfertility” is also used.
According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA), approximately 13.5 per cent, or one out of seven married couples, are experiencing primary or secondary infertility in Korea.
As of 2014, 209,000 people were diagnosed as infertile.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) can contribute to solving the infertility issue for individuals and families.
The government has a program for expanding financial support for infertile couples using the technology.
The program showed the success rate of fertility was 33.2 per cent for in-vitro fertilisation, and 13.7 per cent for intrauterine insemination (IUI) as of 2013.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ART has caused health challenges such as multiple delivery, preterm delivery, and low birth-weight delivery.
KIHASA reported that the top reason for patients to quit the ART was pain and stress during the treatment.
Considering the high spending, the government should review whether the program leads to best results.
There might be a way to satisfy the unmet needs.
In Korea, 71.6 per cent of the infertile couples receive traditional Korean medicine-based treatments. This demand has led local government-level support programs including financial assistance for infertile couples using Korean medicine.
According to the Association of Korean Medicine, the success rate of fertility using the traditional treatment is 24.1 percent.
The goal of traditional Korean medicine is to boost the general health condition to normalise ovarian, uterine and semen function through physical activities and dietary interventions.
Traditional Korean medicine treatments can be used alone, or before/after the ART treatments to increase the chance of fertility.
For the “unexplained infertility” which counts for almost one third of all infertility cases, this is particularly worth being noticed.
From a financial aspect, traditional Korean medicine treatments can alleviate the financial burden on households.
In terms of government support, couples should be able to have an opportunity to take different types of treatments if they are willing to.
Again, this calls for a national level of quality assessment for government’s pregnancy support program to help infertile couples more effectively, including assessing the effectiveness and safety of Korean medical treatment.
Experts insist that it might be necessary for government to run a pilot program on traditional Korean medical support for infertility couples.
Yet the government has not had any national level plans of such support, which has already been implemented for almost a decade in more than 13 municipalities nationwide.
A timely, joint effort of public health experts and traditional Korean medical practitioners is also needed for a feasible national support program to be implemented in Korea where the total birth rate (the number of children per woman) remains at 1.24, which is one of the lowest in the world.
Han Eun-kyung works at Chae Young Clinic in Gyeonggi Province.