March 1, 2024

Australian IVF study confirms rare birth defect

Children conceived by IVF are nine times as likely to have a rare genetic disorder, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, as naturally- conceived children. In an article published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, researchers from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne say that the natural incidence of BWS is 1 in 36,000 births, but for IVF children it is 1 in 4,000. This Australian study confirms other research published last year.

Although the condition is quite uncommon, doctors are asking what feature of IVF causes the defects. One possibility is that IVF itself is to blame. Another is that growing embryos in a culture medium can lead to imprinting errors. This is worrying as IVF clinics are trying to reduce the number of multiple pregnancies by implanting only a single embryo which has grown in a culture medium for a few days. Yet another reason is growing evidence that the eggs and sperm of people with infertility problems are more likely to have genetic disorders.
African governments are subsidising health systems in the UK, the US and other developed countries because many of their nurses are migrating for better pay and working conditions. According to a long report in the New York Times, almost two-thirds of the nursing jobs in Malawi’s public health system are vacant. More registered nurses have left to work overseas in the past four years than the 336 who remain in the public hospitals to care for the country’s 11.6 million people.

According to a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights, about 75% of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa fall short of the World Health Organisation’s standard of 20 doctors per 100,000 people. Zambia’s public sector has retained only 50 of the 600 doctors who were trained its medical school between 1978 and 1999. Seventeen countries do not even have half of the WHO minimum standard for nurses, 100 per 100,000 people. Conditions for nurses in many countries are appalling. Thousands are leaving the profession or have died of AIDS. In Malawi, a quarter of public health workers, including nurses, will probably be dead, mostly from AIDS and TB, by 2009, according to a study of worker death rates.

Unsurprisingly, African nurses are flocking to Britain, where the government is under pressure to improve health care. Since 1998, 12,115 African nurses have registered to work in Britain. Many of these begin by working in nursing homes and then move into the National Health Service. An expatriate British doctor working for the Malawi Health Ministry, Anthony Harries, says that it is immoral for Britain to allow Malawi nurses to migrate so easily. "Come on," he says. "Train your own unemployed people."