What is the knowledge, anxiety levels and attitudes of infertile couples towards coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and its impact on undergoing self-funded treatment cycles?In spite of a high level of awareness about COVID-19, anxiety levels were low and many participants wanted to continue fertility treatment during the pandemic.The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the already overburdened public health infrastructure in many of the resource-limited settings across the world. After an initial decision to suspend fertility treatments, regulatory authorities advocated phased resumptions of treatment. Owing to limited healthcare resources and the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on the economy and job losses, fertility services have been disproportionately affected. It is important to understand the perceptions of infertile couples, who are the key stakeholders in shared decision making, especially for self-funded treatments, on the continuation of fertility treatment during the current COVID-19 pandemic.This was a questionnaire based cross-sectional study conducted among 502 participants (251 infertile couples) at a tertiary level infertility clinic between May 2020 and November 2020. The study recruitment period (6 months) coincided with the increase and peak of COVID-19 infection in India. The study included infertile couples who had attended the clinic either for assessment or fertility treatment.An interviewer administered the questionnaire survey, which was conducted in two stages for each participant. In the first stage, knowledge about COVID-19 and anxiety levels caused by the ongoing pandemic were assessed using a validated Generalised Anxiety Disorder tool (GAD-7). Following this, all the participants were provided with a COVID-19 information pamphlet. Subsequently, in the second stage, participants were administered another questionnaire to assess their attitudes towards fertility treatment and pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic.The results showed that the knowledge levels and awareness about COVID-19 was high among infertile couples attending the infertility clinic. The majority of the participants were aware of the mode of spread (87.6 - 93.4\, common symptoms (64.1 - 96.2\ and the importance of preventative measures (95.6 - 97.4\. Most of the participants (474/502; 94.4\ did not show anxiety when being assessed using GAD-7. A vast majority (96.5-99.2\ of the participants were in agreement with the need for following preventative measures for reducing the spread of COVID-19. About one-third of the participants wanted to delay the fertility treatment until the pandemic is over (166/502; 33.1\. Approximately 42.2\212/502) of the participants did not feel the need to suspend fertility treatment during the pandemic. Further analysis revealed that participants’ education levels significantly influenced the desire to continue fertility treatment: participants with lower levels of education (below graduate) were less likely to continue fertility treatment (adjusted odds ratio 0.34, 95\ 0.12 to 0.98).Questionnaire-based responses could have limited the ability of the interviewer to capture the entire range of thoughts and views of the participants on the COVID pandemic and their fertility treatments. Further, a language barrier was encountered for some couples for which assistance from a translator was sought.Given the impact of infertility and the associated stigma, public health policy makers, regulatory authorities and fertility societies should consider a way to sustain the treatment options and develop appropriate guidelines to continue treatment, particularly when much of the world is experiencing the second and third waves of the COVID pandemic.This study has not received any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors. MSK is an associate editor with Human Reproduction Open. The other authors have no competing interests to declare.
We thank the couples who were willing to participate in the study.
This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
- coronavirus disease 2019
- COVID-19 pandemic
- fertility treatment
- self-funded cycles