In a controversial move, a US IVF & surrogacy consultancy, Sensible Surrogacy is warning all childless American couples to avoid surrogacy programmes in Kenya citing risks of non-regulation generally, the lower quality of medical care in the country, as well as the general risk to some travelers in Nairobi.
It says though surrogacy has become a popular solution for childless couples to conceive their own families, high costs, international prohibitions and claims of exploitation of women in developing countries have made the practice controversial.
Sensible Surrogacy had been informally advising Western clients from considering options in that region. Now there has been a more formal decision made to withdraw from the country completely.
“With restrictions appearing in southern and southeast Asia, several surrogacy agencies are offering low-cost options in Kenya and similar destinations,” says Bill Houghton, director of Sensible Surrogacy. “The lure of being able to have a baby ‘on the cheap’ is attracting desperate couples into what could be a dangerous situation.”
According to Houghton, the risks are too great and the chance of success in Kenya is mediocre. The consultancy now recommends new lower-cost programmes in the United States, which it says are completely safe and have the highest success rates worldwide.
In a press release, Sensible Surrogacy says the CIA World Fact Book estimates of infant mortality in Kenya for 2017 are 37 per 1,000, making Kenya the 49th most dangerous place to have a child worldwide (out of 225 countries). Iraq and Papua New Guinea hold the subsequent spots on the CIA’s list.
“We’ve checked with several online expat services, and they also warn foreigners about the quality of medical care,” said Houghton. “International insurance providers warn that most health care facilities in Kenya are below international standards with limited resources, and limited capabilities.”
But the move appears to be related to Kenya’s policy on homosexuality rather than health risks.
The consultancy cites past travel advisories issues by the US State Department and the US Crime and Safety report that warns of violent street crime targeted at Westerners in Nairobi itself as part of the reasons behind its withdrawal call.
“Many of our clients are LGBT couples, and Kenya is notoriously homophobic,” says Houghton. “About 90% of our LGBT couples who pursue surrogacy were forced to consider Kenya. We just can’t justify putting these couples into a life-threatening environment when there are now such better options at home.”
“While our primary focus has always been to help our childless couples start their own families, that goal doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” says Houghton. “We need to balance clients’ desire to have a family with their own well-being, the likely success of a programme in an underdeveloped country, and the availability of affordable alternatives.”
Houghton points to the availability of Independent Surrogacy programmes as a safe and affordable option for many childless families. His Consultancy is taking extraordinary steps to make that option available to more couples.
Independent Surrogacy is when the Intended Parents manage their own surrogacy journey without the help of a commercial agent, explains Houghton. That may seem complicated, but many of the tasks performed by an Agent can easily be done by most Parents. To support parents following the Independent Surrogacy route, the consultancy has recently launched an exclusive service to guide parents through the entire process.
Sensible Surrogacy says while it’s true that some US surrogacy agencies are charging $120,000 (Ksh 12 million) or more for a complete cycle, Independent Surrogacy programmes are now available for less than $70,000 (Ksh 7 million), adding that makes Independent Surrogacy in the United Sates a viable option for many couples who would otherwise need to risk traveling to an unregulated country to conceive their families.
The consultancy publishes the Sensible Surrogacy Guide, a source for how surrogacy works for childless couples. Since 2012 they have advocated for affordable, complete and ethical surrogacy services through their overseas consultants and a network of medical and legal service providers.