One in four couples, one in six couples – the ratios may vary by country, but I know for a fact that infertility is a real and present predicament for affected couples across the globe. A New York Times headline expressed it aptly: “Even when it ends with a healthy baby, a long struggle to conceive may exact a brutal toll”.
The emotional baggage of infertility draws a parallel only to the paramount but less-discussed effects the condition has on human rights. Every person has the right to attain the highest standard of physical and mental health – a right ascribed for by the World Health Organization (WHO) – and with this, the right to decide on the number, timing and spacing of their offspring.
As a practitioner, I attest to the roller coaster and heartbreak moments that couples endure; the mental breakdowns and relationship breakups the malady unleashes, situations for which the WHO recognises the importance of high-quality services for reproductive health. Such impetus has paved the way for great strides to be made in the field of fertility treatment.
Travelling for Hope
With the passage of time, fertility treatment broke new arena. New methods have been developed, bringing smiles to couples; but with this came long waiting lines and trumped-up costs of treatment. The unavailability of treatment facilities in some countries or legal requirements that did not support artificially aided conception, necessitated the migration for fertility treatment to more hopeful pastures.
With time being a precious if not crucial consideration for trying couples, where chances significantly diminish with a woman’s age, many are willing to cross continents; a reason for the rise in ‘Fertility Tourism’.
Over the decade, the travel boon to countries that offered fertility treatment as well as a holiday came to be known as ‘Fertility Vacations’. While the sun, sea and sand are a bonus, the focus is still to leave pregnant, and this is where Malaysia is making our mark.
The Malaysian Mark
Malaysia’s healthcare system has undergone considerable transformation since our Independence from the British in 1957. Malaysians enjoy the synergistic and robust relationship that exist between our public and private medical sectors, a result of the government’s relentless commitment to public health.
The 2019 International Living Annual Global Retirement Index ranked Malaysia first in the ‘Best Healthcare in the World’ category for our world-class healthcare services and sophisticated infrastructure, making special mention of the well-trained doctors and flawless communication in English.
In 2020 and for the fourth consecutive year, the Medical Travel Awards awarded Malaysia the ‘Health and Medical Tourism: Destination of the Year’ title. In the same year, Malaysian healthcare received 26 ‘Global Health Asia Pacific Awards’, including in the ‘Stellar Covid-19 Achievement of the Year’ category. These are just the latest from a string of awards Malaysia has achieved in the last 10 years.
In 2009, 35 medical tourists arrived in Malaysia. In 2018, this number grew to 1.8 million arrivals. Among these were a fast-growing number of arrivals for fertility treatment. The fertility treatment segment of the medical tourism market is projected to grow the fastest over the forecast period of 2021-2026 and expected to record a CAGR of 9.7% as it attracts couples from neighbouring countries, especially those within a six-hour plane ride.
Chart 1: Number of people who travelled to Malaysia for healthcare from 2011 to 2019 (in 1,000s)
Source: Statista. (2021). Number of medical tourists to Malaysia 2011-2019.
Chart 2: Medical Tourists Arrivals in Malaysia in comparison to selected countries
Source: Medical Tourism Facts and Figures 2018, International Medical Travel Journal (“IMTJ”)
Malaysia is a multi-racial country known for our hospitality, sumptuous food and rich culture. With excellent doctors, state-of-the-art facilities and a quality healthcare system, couples are making Malaysia a destination to make their dreams of building a family come true.
For more help and information, contact the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), which will guide you through the necessary processes and procedures. Alternatively, you could also contact the healthcare providers directly.
About the author
Dr. Navdeep Singh Pannu is a Fertility Specialist whose effervescent personality and positive attitude continue to be a source of comfort to couples on their quest to build a family. He is the Medical Director of TMC Fertility and Women’s Specialist Centre.