The medical industry is without question one of the most important and controversial industries in the world today. As research surges forward, new possibilities emerge, in such diverse fields as fertility clinics, organ donation and immunizations. These developments give hope, but also raise important ethical questions: How much should doctors play God with the bodies of humans? What medical services should the government pay for out of taxpayers' dollars? This weeks Industry Insider looks at recent exciting developments in the medical sector in the Baltic States.
TALLINN - "Estonian doctors have given me hope where there was none," says John Chamberlain who has come to Estonia to pursue treatment.
Being a country with a small population, Estonia is looking to increase its birth rates. However, due to increasing lifestyle stress and ecological effects, more and more couples are facing infertility problems. The Estonian government is addressing the problem by promoting and sponsoring an In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) program.
The development of infertility treatment started back in 1993. One of the pioneering IVF clinics is in Tartu, a city known for its outstanding medical education and research since Soviet times. The first IVF procedure was performed in the Women's Clinic of Tartu University.
The results were impressive and many years of hard work culminated in success with the first baby conceived by IVF in any Baltic country, being born in Estonia in 1995. To date, over 300 families have become happy parents as a result of the work undertaken by this clinic alone.
The Estonian government quickly realized the benefits this treatment can bring. The implementation and development of infertility treatment and IVF is a very long process and as a result very costly. The Estonian government has always tried to sponsor these programs as much as possible and this year even set a budget of 50 million kroons (3,195,574 euros) for full reimbursement of IVF services by health insurance. This appears to be a well judged decision, allowing for about 1500 IVF procedures per year to be undertaken, which could result in the birth of about 400 additional babies per year. It is important to note that national health insurance will also cover treatment in private hospitals. In Tallinn there are the private Nova Vita and Tallinn's National Eastern Hospital clinics giving great hope to childless families.
The high quality of medicine and low prices have made Estonia a place where couples come in search of infertility treatment, when they have already lost hope back home.
"They found out that I have some sperm that work which has given me hope because I was told they were all dead in the U.K," Chamberlain said. He came to Estonia specifically to pursue infertility treatment.
"It seems the tests they do in Estonia are more precise," Chamberlain said.
It is notable that, for such a small country, Estonia has sufficient clinics to assist with infertility problems, allowing reasonably fast access to these services.
"The waiting list is shorter and it is a lot cheaper. In fact it costs nothing," Chamberlain said.
Unfortunately for the families hoping for treatment, the Estonian health system will have a new IVF budget set up for the next year. It plans only 10 million kroons instead of this year's 50 million kroons, which means that patients will have to pay for about 30 percent of the IVF treatment from their own pockets, as it was a few years ago. "For many of the patients it will become a big disappointment," comments Andres Salumets, the director of Nova Vita clinic. This means that the percentage of those having access to the treatment will decrease due to the inability to pay for it. "With this money it will be possible to undertake only about 200 procedures and not 1500 as had been previously planned," adds Salumets.