Disclaimer and Trigger warning: Every Summer, in June, it is World Infertility Awareness Month and at BoldLatina we understand conversations on infertility are difficult, sensitive and stigmatized in our Latinx/e community especially amongst young women. We wrote this article not as medical advice but to highlight the growth of fertility tourism and the expensive industry of fertility supported with facts and data.
One in every six people suffer infertility at some point in their life, according to recent data from the World Health Organization. This makes assisted conception increasingly popular, as fertility tourism flourishes.
The high cost of treatments and the application of restrictive laws in each patient's country of origin has promoted the development of this type of medical tourism. In fact, a report published by Grand Review Research in 2022 estimates that this market will grow at an annual rate greater than 30% between 2022 and 2030.
Denmark, Spain, Israel, Thailand, the United States, Greece, and Australia are among the main destinations to carry out fertility treatments, as they offer advanced technologies and specialized clinics. As for Latin America, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina stand out when it comes to fertility tourism.
But how convenient is it to travel to undergo assisted reproductive technologies (ART)? Let’s look at some key points.
Fertility Treatment Costs in the United States
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 2% of babies born each year in the United States are conceived using ART. The fertility treatment costs vary according to the complexity of the technique.
An intrauterine insemination, which involves placing sperm directly into the uterus while ovulating, ranges from “a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars per cycle, depending on the fertility center,” explains Dr. Jenna Turocy of the Columbia University Fertility Center in a Today.com article.
For its part, an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle, in which a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus through surgery, is between $15,000 and $30,000, according to Forbes Magazine. The fee typically includes blood tests, medication, check-up appointments, egg retrieval, and patient follow-up.
The figures are high even when insurers can cover certain expenses, and different organizations, like Baby Quest Foundation and Footprints of Angels, offer discount or loan programs.
Infertility and Disparity for Latinas in the United States
As Latina Millennials and some Gen Zers are contemplating or seeking to start families they are facing disparities. Economic reasons are one of the obstacles Latinas in the United States face when resorting to assisted fertility services, according to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).
Other obstacles include social stigmas, lack of insurance coverage, and language barriers. For these reasons, Latinas have lower rates of ART use in comparison with non-Hispanic/Latina White women. The NCBI study reveals that “15% of White women between ages 25-44 years in the United States have sought medical help to get pregnant compared to only 7.6% of Hispanic women.”
What are the options available to overcome these obstacles? Latin America is shown as an affordable alternative, where some clinics offer fertilization cycles at up to a quarter of the cost from the United States. Medical tourism, particularly fertility tourism, benefits, among other things, from the depreciation of the currency of these countries in relation to the U.S. dollar.
Costs of Fertility Treatments in Mexico
Mexico has earned a good reputation in recent years thanks to the various fertility treatment options offered in its fertility clinics. The agency Infertility Aide, which connects doctors with patients around the world, points out that IVF in this country can cost up to 70% less than in the U.S., starting at about $4,500.
Additionally, the regulation of surrogacy in only two states, Tabasco and Sinaloa, makes Mexico a "paradise" for those who wish to be parents in this way. According to a CNBC article, surrogacy programs cost about $70,000 in Mexico, compared to $120,000 in the U.S.
Brazil, the Largest Contributor in the Continent
A report by the Latin American Network of Assisted Reproduction titled “ART in Latin America: the Latin American Registry” published this year indicates that 87,732 cycles of assisted fertilization were initiated in Latin America in 2020 and 46% of them were in Brazil, the largest contributor of ART in the continent, ahead of Mexico and Argentina.
On average, rates for an assisted fertility cycle are around $4,000. In addition, the law agrees that single women and female gay partners may receive these procedures.
Argentina at the Forefront of Fertility Tourism
The South American country made headlines in 2013 by approving law No. 26.862, which guarantees the subsidy of assisted reproductive procedures and technology, as well as medicine, regardless of the sexual orientation or marital status of the person. This means that all fertility treatments are free for Argentinian residents.
Since then, Argentina has become a leader in reproductive medicine. The high success rates obtained in high complexity treatments, as well as how economical they are due to currency exchange differences, are attractive aspects for foreign patients who are in search of a pregnancy. Costs for IVF range from $1,750 to $4,300 at clinics such as Fertility Argentina or Sublimis.
It is also the third nation with the highest number of fertility treatment centers accredited by the Red Latinoamericana de Reproducción Asistida (Latin American Assisted Reproduction Network, REDLARA), with 23. Brazil leads the list with 67, followed by Mexico with 42.
Assisted reproductive technological advances, along with cost savings and individualized care, rapidly boost growth in the fertility tourism market. An option chosen by those who yearn to start a family and who, in their own countries, reproductive rights or costs do not favor them.
Infertility and stigmas Latinas face in the Latinx community
Historically, fertility is almost synonymous with the Latina identity of womanhood. From books, sitcoms, movies to novelas and our own families it is hard for a Latina to remove herself from the conversation of fertility. But why should it be so hard when the conversation on whether you want or don’t want or can or can’t have children is one to have with yourself and honestly no one’s business? But yet, in our Latinx community we often feel some sort of pressure to be “fruitful” and not barren and to birth as many kids as our Abuelas did, that was enough to have their own fútbol team.
It is no wonder when a woman faces infertility it can be a hard topic, sensitive struggle and oftentimes isolating.
If you do a quick Google search for “Grecia Lopez + infertility” you will find a young, resilient and beautiful Latina who became an advocate for infertility in 2015 after she went viral with two million views on Tik Tok for speaking about her journey.
Entertainment and music journalist Grecia López is one of 4,500 women who were born without a uterus, a condition called Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser (MRKH). Although she hasn’t dealt with IVF she does have experience with the stigmas, casted stereotypes and judgments of infertility in the Latinx community.
“We [Latinas] are worried about how our family will take in the misinformation first before we have time to process it. For example, I understood it right away and I had a hard time thinking of a way to tell my grandmother,” explained Lopez to BoldLatina about her experience with infertility.
She added at first her grandmother equated Lopez’s infertility to her granddaughter having a hard time finding love.
“I come from a very Catholic family where getting married and having kids is a big goal that my grandmother wants to see me accomplish,” Lopez said.
Religious pressure and traditional cultural beliefs are a major reason women travel to seek affordable treatments for IVF. Even though fertility tourism is a cheaper option than seeking it in the U.S. spending thousands of dollars does not guarantee a successful IVF. Latinas who are infertile are left with having to process what it means in their life and the difficult conversations they will have with their family or partner.
“To be honest, the fact that I am infertile isn't something that I let control my life. Sure, it gets me sad sometimes, but it doesn't define who I am as an individual,” Lopez candidly said.
“My parents accepted it, my siblings accepted it, and I will soon meet someone who accepts it.”
Whether it’s genetic, physiological or environmental, infertility has created fertility tourism as the latest boom in medical-seeking tourism. Medical tourism is nothing new, whether it’s cosmetic or plastic surgeries in the Dominican Republic, dental care or long-term care in Mexican border towns medical tourism has been around. Educating our Latinx community on the economic disparities, medical misinformation and social stigmas along with the progressive Latin-American legislation covering IVF and surrogacy is making it easier to have access to reproductive medicine and technologies.