Nfld. & Labrador

Funding coming for those seeking IVF treatment, says N.L. health minister

A fertility advocate is calling on the Newfoundland and Labrador government to honour the commitment it made in January to expand access to fertility services. Health Minister John Haggie said a funding package could be announced within weeks.

Patients pay thousands of dollars to travel out of province for treatments

Health Minister John Haggie says the provincial government is in discussions to expand fertility services in Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie said Tuesday a funding package for people who have to travel for in vitro fertilization treatment will be announced within "weeks." 

In an interview with The St. John's Morning Show, Haggie said the funding package is a "short-term fix" while his department has clinical discussions with Eastern Health, the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and other providers about what fertility services "are needed and are sustainable."

Newfoundland and Labrador is one of two provinces in Canada that does not have in-province IVF, forcing people who need the procedure to travel to places like Halifax, Calgary or Toronto. The procedure is not covered by MCP, forcing patients to spend thousands of dollars on travel and accommodations on top of the procedure itself.

"That's a longer piece of work, hence the importance of getting the travel funding piece sorted out first," Haggie said.

In January, the provincial government released a statement promising to enhance fertility services in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

However, advocate Ledon Wellon, founder of the group Faces of Fertility, said she hasn't heard any details of the province's plan.

Haggie said he couldn't disclose specifics about the funding package because it hasn't been released or brought to cabinet yet. 

No plans for an IVF clinic — yet

Wellon has a medical condition that affects her ability to get pregnant and shortens her window for having children. Last year, she started Faces of Fertility, an online group that advocates for those who face fertility issues in Newfoundland and Labrador. She also works with Fertility Matters, a national fertility advocacy organization.

After five years and countless tests and procedures, Wellon is now 27 weeks pregnant through intrauterine insemination. She said she did IVF treatments in Calgary at the beginning of the pandemic, but was unable to access embryos due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

"Over a year of not being able to access something that I worked so hard and paid so much for when, you know, if it was in our province, I would have just been able to just access that whenever I needed to," she said.

Ledon Wellon says she plans to keep advocating for accessible fertility services. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The clinic in St. John's offers investigation and testing capabilities, counselling, IVF out-of-province referral and satellite monitoring, prenatal care and other services. Haggie said the clinic has $675,000 in funding.

While the government's statement in January didn't specifically commit to creating an IVF clinic, it did say the government would work to "enable IVF services in the province."

"We've heard the concerns," Haggie said. "It's obvious that it's a serious problem for those people who have it. We're trying to find a way to fix some of those in a way that helps them and fits with, you know, current Canadian best practices."

Haggie said that the province is in discussions to determine what new fertility treatment services could be implemented, but those discussions have not yet led to concrete plans beyond the funding package. He said the province has a relatively small number of patients seeking IVF.

"What we want to do is see what is being provided currently, what the current need is," he said.

Wellon noted that one in six Canadian families experience infertility. She said she'll keep advocating for access to fertility services so others won't have to endure the long process she went through.

"I really want to keep going until it's accessible for all."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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