Babies born today using Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) are healthier than their predecessors, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Assisted Reproductive Technology in Australia and New Zealand 2002, shows that babies born in 2002 using ART had longer gestational ages, higher birthweights and fewer perinatal deaths than their counterparts of just two years previously.
Professor Michael Chapman, clinical advisor to the AIHW's National Perinatal Statistics Unit, says there was a 5.3% decline in the number of babies born pre-term (less than 37 weeks) compared to 2000.
'Just over a quarter (27%) of ART babies were born preterm in 2002. This is a clear improvement on 2000's figure of 33%.
'Similarly, the proportion of babies born with low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams) had declined to 22% in 2002 compared to 26% in 2000.
'The perinatal death rate for ART babies was 17.3 deaths per 1,000 births in 2002, considerably less than the 20.7 deaths per 1,000 births in 2000.'
Professor Chapman points out that there are still variations in the success rate of ART depending upon which type of procedure is undertaken and the age of the woman.
'Women using their own frozen embryos in the treatment process in 2002 achieved a live birth in 13.7% of all cycles started. Women using their own freshly harvested embryos within the treatment cycle, however, had a slightly higher success achieving a live birth in 18.3% of cycles started.
'And when we look at the age of women who used their own fresh embryos, not surprisingly the greatest success of live births was found in women aged between 25-29 years at 26%, and women aged 40-44 years having a greatly reduced live birth rate at 6%.'
In terms of the type of ART treatment now in use, ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is now the most common method, being used in 48.4% of all fresh cycles. It now surpasses IVF treatment (used in 37% of all fresh cycles), with GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer) dropping from 36% in 1993 to just 1% in 2002.
Professor Chapman said that this is the first year that national data have been available on the age of women using ART and their partners.
'The average age of women undergoing treatment in 2002 was 35.2 years, and the average age of partners is 37.6 years.'