Vancouver Island residents with fertility issues will no longer have to travel to the mainland for treatment when a new full-service In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinic opens in Victoria this fall.
The news comes as Canadian Fertility Awareness Week, which started Sunday, aims to spread awareness about fertility issues and accessing care.
Olive Fertility Centre Victoria plans to open a full-service IVF clinic in Victoria’s Capital Park in September.
Infertility Specialist Dr. Ginevra Mills says B.C.’s capital used to have an IVF clinic, but it closed in 2019.
The fertility clinics currently on the Island can provide ultrasounds and pretests but can’t do surgeries or full treatment, forcing those needing IVF treatments to travel to clinics in Vancouver. Mills told CHEK News that this has created more stress for patients.
“IVF is a really unpredictable process, when you start the process you don’t actually know when you will have to go for your procedures, or things could take longer or be quicker than you expect,” Mills said.
“When you have to bank on travelling, especially when those modes of transportation are very unreliable, it causes a lot of stress and anxiety for patients, it adds a lot of costs and it makes the process more difficult than it needs to be.”
She added that infertility rates across Canada are rising, with one in six people worldwide experiencing fertility issues, meaning full-service IVF clinics are very important.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Mills and her colleagues have been working to build another clinic on the Island to ensure local residents can receive local treatment.
“We have really taken care and attention to having the most state-of-the-art IFV Lab that will be available. So top of the line, newest equipment and techniques,” Mills said.
Olive Fertility Centre Victoria will also be partnering with Ocean View Fertility Clinic in Comox to provide better access on the North Island.
Dr. Chad Van Tongeren, OB/GYN at Ocean View Fertility Clinic, says it will become a satellite clinic for Victoria, providing ultrasounds, pretests and monitoring for IVF patients.
According to Van Tongeren, this will also reduce the amount of travelling for those patients.
“Certainly in the winter, the Malahat can be treacherous, and patients are travelling several hours and taking time off work,” he said. “To be able to have options more locally and being able to help people in that way, I think, is exciting.”
One former IVF patient CHEK News spoke with agreed that this is great news.
Stephanie Curran, acupuncturist and mindfulness instructor at Elements of Health Clinic, went through her own infertility journey 10 years ago.
When she was 35, Curran discovered she had a poor ovarian reserve. This started a two-year journey that included surgery for Endometriosis and the removal of a fibroid, as well as two IVF cycles.
Because this was a decade ago, Curran could complete this process in Victoria before the clinic closed. She was already under a lot of stress and said travelling would have made things worse.
Curran adds she’s happy to hear that a new full-service IVF clinic will open in Victoria again.
“Research has shown that the psychological burden is the number one reason why people stop their fertility care and treatments,” she said.
“So anything we can do to reduce that stress through the journey through allowing people to be able to stay local to receive their treatments, to be able to access care, to be able to have supports like mindfulness and other options that will be provided as resources will just really go a long way in supporting people in reducing their stress.”
Canadian fertility awareness week
Canadian Fertility Awareness Week started on Sunday to highlight fertility issues and access to care. Dr. Mills says this is an important week to open up conversations around these issues, as many people stir away from the topic.
“I think as long as fertility remains a taboo subject that people don’t want to talk about or share or feel ashamed about, the information isn’t going to get out there and drive access to care,” Mills said.
Curran finds that it’s a personal topic that often brings up a lot of emotions for people experiencing infertility.
“Frustration, anxiety, depression, guilt and isolation,” Curran said as an example. “Many people don’t talk about their fertility journey, and so they feel very alone.”
She says this is why awareness weeks like this one are so important.
“It opens up the conversation and it allows other people to know they aren’t the only ones going through this, and hopefully, more and more people will start sharing their stories,” Curran added.
She says this week is full of events across Canada and resources where people can learn more about fertility.
Locally, there is a Facebook live event Sunday evening on mindfulness for fertility discussing ways to support well-being through an infertility journey.
On April 26, Curran is partnering with Olive Fertility to host a webinar talking about how to navigate the fertility journey, both from a medical perspective and through diet and well-being. This webinar is free, and participants can register online.
Curran says Victoria city hall and the B.C. legislature will be lit up green on Wednesday to commemorate the awareness week.
More Canada-wide events can be found on the Fertility Matters Canada website.