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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
IVF could 'ease population woes'
Birth rates are falling
Fertility treatment could be used to help address falling population rates in Europe, a study has found.

Independent think-tank RAND Europe showed that overall fertility rates are boosted when IVF is widely available.

The researchers compared rates in the UK, where access to fertility treatment is limited, to those in Denmark, where it is much more readily available.

A European fertility conference in Prague heard that Europe faced a demographic crisis.

It is important to plan ahead and address the social and economic consequences of the declining birth rate
Clare Brown

Lead researcher Dr Jonathan Grant told the conference that birth rates were falling and family sizes shrinking.

He said by 2040 a quarter of Europeans were expected to be more than 65 years old.

The study found that in Denmark, 2,000 cycles of assisted reproduction techniques (ART) treatment were provided for every million women in the population, compared with just 600 in the UK.

The research showed that if the number of cycles in the UK was increased to Danish levels, total fertility rate would increase from 1.64 children per woman to 1.68.

Demographers say 2.1 children per woman is the minimum level needed to sustain existing population levels.

Since the study was carried out, Britain's fertility rate has increased to 1.8, but it is still too low.

Significant impact

Dr Grant said other strategies such as more generous maternity benefits had also been shown to increase fertility rates.

He said: "ART could make a small but not insignificant improvement to fertility rate.

"We are now in a position to conclude that ART could be part of a population policy mix."

Clare Brown, chief executive of the charity Infertility Network UK, said: "We agree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that assisted reproduction techniques (ART) should be used to help mitigate the consequences of falling birth rates.

"However at the moment this is not happening in the UK."

Ms Brown said guidelines issued by the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence call for three cycles of treatment to be made available to all eligible couples.

However, the government has pledged to fund just one cycle - and in many cases even this is not happening.

"It is important to plan ahead and address the social and economic consequences of the declining birth rate and with more couples leaving it until later to start their family, more will experience fertility problems.

"These couples are in a position to make a difference and we need to provide more funding for ART to help them overcome the problems they may encounter."

See how IVF can prolong women's fertility

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