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Law to regulate fertility centres

KUALA LUMPUR, 24 April 2009: The Ministry of Health is formulating legislation to provide for, among other things, proper scrutiny, licensing and audit of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) centres, Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Mohd Ismail Merican said today.

He said the draft of the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Act was being looked into by the Medical Practice Division of the ministry.

The legislation would also ensure that only appropriately qualified and competent personnel were allowed to handle the patients, he said in his opening address at the first National Reproductive Medicine Congress, here.

“The ART lab is a vital cog in the wheel of reproductive medicine. There should be adherence to standard operating procedures in all ART labs to ensure accreditation and licensing and to avoid the abuse of infertility procedures and other related activities of ART,” he said.

He said any method of ART practised must therefore guard against any mixing of the genes in order to preserve the inheritance of genes and heredity.  

Mohd Ismail said the act would be almost similar to the Human Embryology and Fertility Act of the United Kingdom.

With the formation of the National Advisory Committee on ART under the purview of the deputy director-general of health (medical), a holistic approach towards the development of this sub-specialty would be efficiently carried out, he said.

“This committee will oversee policy matters pertaining to ART services as well as establish guidelines and standard operating procedures to be used for government as well as private hospitals.

“There is a need for a systematic effort to accredit staff who participate in the ART programmes to ensure the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and responsibility,” he said.

Mohd Ismail said recruiting science officers and training them to be embryologists after obtaining their Masters degree as well as the development of a local training programme would help to provide an adequate pool of embryologists for the public and private sectors.

He said the government had to embark on the ART programme as the ministry was concerned that the total fertility (pregnancy) rate amongst Malaysian women had dropped from 6.7 per woman in 1957 to 2.9 per woman in 2008.  

The situation was basically due to urbanisation and other changes associated with greater stress due to lifestyle changes, long working hours, smoking and increasing sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections, he said.

Mohd Ismail said the first publicly-funded ART centre in Kuala Lumpur was operational in 2006, and the ministry was setting up three regional ART centres, in Kuala Terengganu, Alor Setar and Likas (Sabah), two of which would be operational by early next year.

He said the regional centres would provide ART services involving laboratory and medical treatment while the satellite hospitals would provide medical treatment (drugs) only as they did not have the specialised laboratory facilities and embryologists.

“We also have developed satellite services in Ipoh, Selayang and Klang so that the patients in other hospitals can also access the ART services at these centres. These patients will undergo controlled ovarian stimulation and be subsequently sent for ovum pick-up and embryo transfer at the regional ART centres,” he said.

He also said that in the second phase of development, two other regional hospitals, in Sarawak and Johor, would also have ART centres. — Bernama


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