LIFE FINDS A WAY

Panama 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Mario Vega Rich, Medical Director of IVF Centro de Reproducción, on the development of unique fertility treatments and the potential of medical tourists.

Dr. Mario Vega Rich
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Mario Vega Rich studied Medicine at the University of Panama. He also was a fellow of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He specialized in Reproductive Medicine at CECOLFES.

Could you brief us on the evolution of IVF in Panama?

IVF (in vitro fertilization) in Panama is evolving rapidly, and my center IVF Panama is probably one of the key such institutions in Central America. Not all clinics in Central America offer In Vitro or medical reproduction services. For example in Costa Rica, IVF is prohibited by law. In Guatemala, there are a small number of centers. IVF technologies have been offered and are available to patients in Panama for over 15 years. I opened the doors to my IVF center 13 years ago, in 2002. Since then I have dedicated myself to continuously improving my IVF laboratory with the best technologies available. I have made huge investments to provide my embryologist with the newest technologies to work with. I feel that is what makes my center stand out from the rest. IVF Panama is not alone in providing excellent patient care, but we offer hope to patients with technologies that not every clinic offers. Another key element that I am proud of is my well-trained professional team, vital to a successful IVF laboratory. My embryologists were the first in the country to be trained in the cryopreservation method of Vitrification. We were also one of the first IVF laboratories to offer PGD (Pre Genetic Diagnosis), which is the ability to diagnose an embryo with chromosome abnormalities and inform a patient prior to the embryo transfer taking place. Now available is the newest technology called PGS, which is a 46 chromosome screening done under CGH (comparative genomic hybridization). Endometrial receptivity of the endometrium, is the newest reproductive technique we are offering. This test has given us a great response with patients and successful outcomes. IVF Panama is having a great year with outstanding results, and is continuously increasing cycles. Due to this, IVF Panama has become an attractive clinic in other areas of the world such as United States, South America and Canada. Medical tourism has really taken off, and we are proud to be a part of it. Our continuous efforts to excel and provide an above-average service has put IVF Panama on the map for others to seek interest with international organizations and universities to collaborate in studies and research on new IVF technologies.

What will be the future of medical tourism here in Panama and how are you positioned to capitalize on the inflow of patients?

Taking care of international patients is one of our goals, and is something that has been working for us with currently around 30% of our patients coming from abroad. The internet plays a pivotal role in the development of medical tourism in Panama. People search for treatment online, and our certifications are an important reference for the quality of our care provision. People come to our center and obtain good results, which is a source of referrals. We have been working on medical tourism for the past six or seven years, and are in a strong position.

Some 30% of patients are international. Which areas are you targeting to increase this percentage?

We are shifting into IVF. Online research confirms just how many people are trying to find IVF centers. There are countries that do not cover IVF as a part of their insurance policies and so on, whereby patients pay out of pocket. People try to look for the best fees for IVF Treatment, and once you have a good quality center at an affordable price—our prices are one-third of those in the US. At the end of the day, we might be more expensive than some countries and cheaper than others, but we are in a good market.

Can you share details related to your efforts to establish connections with international institutions to consolidate your activities and your image as well?

We have been in contact with prestigious companies that are recognized worldwide. These companies are helping women suffering from reproductive failure, and giving new hope to patients by improving the quality of eggs. We are now going to be the first in Panama to launch treatments to improve the health of eggs. Children in Canada have already been born with the help of this procedure, and there are other patients who have achieved pregnancy in other countries, which is something that is very promising for women who are older or have low quality eggs. We were the only institution selected to undertake this procedure in Latin America, so it is greatly encouraging that the international community is recognizing the quality of our patient services.

What are the main targets that you intend to achieve by the end of this year?

By the end of this year, I seek to double the number of IVF cycles undertaken and position the center as one of the biggest in Latin America. With the new business to be developed and the new income that this will generate, we will try to reinvest to obtain much better technology to improve the center still further.