One of the most interesting presentations I heard at the recent Fertility Society of Australia conference in Adelaide was not one about cutting edge science or new developments (as an aside, Sydney IVF’s technology is at the forefront of IVF practice but it’s always interesting to get other people’s views and directions). In fact the talk I found the most interesting was from Graeme Hugo, an expert on population, both Australia’s and worldwide.

Some things I knew – for example, that in Southern European countries there is a risk of active population decline, as people are having fewer or no children compared to previously. The birth rates in Spain and Italy for example, are lower than death rates and so the population is shrinking. It’s interesting that in these Catholic countries, couples are either not trying to conceive or are using contraception irrespective of Church doctrine!

Worldwide, the population of earth is increasing, but at a much slower rate than was originally thought back in the 1970s. In fact on current trends it is estimated that by later this century we will have a stable world population. Perhaps if we manage ourselves and our environment we will survive as a species after all.

In Australia, we have all heard of the baby boomer era – the post WW2 time when couples had on average around 3-4 children. That dropped significantly but our birth rate has experienced a recent upswing. Our birth rates are reasonable and we are (just about) replacing ourselves. But because of better longevity, our longer life span (in part) means that there will be an increasing population in Australia over the next few decades. Maybe that will place some pressure on our environment, but the considered opinion is that current trends are not excessive.

Immigration has a role but is very controversial in some quarters. From a fertility perspective, according to Hugo, our typical migrants come from well educated backgrounds and are not very likely to have many children, so we can’t particularly rely on migration for lots of extra Australian babies.

Along the way, more and more couples seek fertility treatments and at present, IVF babies account for about 4 percent of Australian births. That figure will likely continue to increase over the next few years, so the impact of IVF having a crucial contribution to Australia’s population cannot be underestimated.

How ironic, then, that the Australian government made the decision last year to cut Medicare reimbursement for IVF treatment, increasing the out-of pocket costs for Australian couples who need help and making treatment unaffordable to many. This has already led to less babies being born in Australia – at least 1000 less babies in the ten months since the rebates cuts came into effect.

The newly elected government has created a new position of Minister of Population. If that person’s support mechanisms are appropriate, this information will be front and centre as part of their role. I’m hoping for a good dialogue between the Population Minister and the Health Minister.