RTE 1,065 0 Share this article Share In March 2017, a clinic opened at the old National Hospital in the central town of Baalbek.
“It was the first clinic in the country, and we opened the doors of the hospital with a sign saying ‘Let the patients come and give birth’,” said Hassan Zaki, a health worker at the clinic, referring to the Lebanese name for Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.
“We had more than 1,000 people who came to give birth.”
The clinic had its first two births in September 2017, and since then, it has delivered more than 3,000 babies.
But for many Lebanese, the fertility clinic has been a symbol of a country that is increasingly accepting the practice of assisted reproductive technology, or ART, in the face of an international and local backlash.
“They [the government] have made a mistake,” said Hoda, a 42-year-old mother of two from the southern town of Arsal.
“Art has made a lot of progress.
I think they have been doing their best.”
ART in Lebanon and abroad An analysis by the Lebanese Center for Research on Women (CRCW) shows that there is a significant increase in the number of Lebanese women using ART in 2017.
In a study released in October 2017, the group found that the number using ART quadrupled from 0.7% in the second half of 2016 to 0.8% in September, a rise of 70% over the same period in 2016.
In some cases, the increase is greater: in the city of Bekaa, for instance, there were 6,879 births in the first half of 2017 compared to 4,531 in the same time period in 2015.
The number of women using the technique is also increasing in the north of Lebanon, with the number in Beirut and the rest of the country doubling in the period.
In the northern city of Beirut, for example, there are now more than 5,000 women using assisted reproductive technologies, according to the figures from the centre.
“In the past, we had very few women,” said Nadia, a 39-year old nurse in Beirut.
But in 2017, Nadia and other women from the north started using ART.
“Since 2017, we have seen a rise in the numbers of women who use ART,” she said.
The rise in ART usage has also affected the social stigma attached to the practice.
“There was a lot more stigma attached with ART, that is, with using the device,” said Ghassan, the women’s rights activist in Beirut who is also working to change the stigma surrounding ART.
The stigma is a huge barrier to women accessing ART, Ghassa explained.
“People have different views about the procedure.
We have more and more women in the hospital who have had no choice but to have abortions.
So we don’t know the reasons why they had an abortion.”
The stigma surrounding assisted reproductive tech has also created barriers for women in Lebanon, Ghasan said.
“If they want to have an abortion, it’s very difficult,” she explained.
There are also some misconceptions about the technology.
“The media is so biased against the procedure that there are stories of people using ART who have not undergone a pregnancy test and who are carrying the baby to term,” she added.
“A lot of people in Lebanon are afraid to get tested.
We need to do more research about the technique.”
Another barrier is the fact that many Lebanese still believe that ART is a “private matter” and do not want to speak about it with their family.
“When a woman uses ART, it is seen as a private matter and not a health issue,” Ghassam said.
Despite these issues, many women are continuing to use ART, even though they face an increased risk of infertility.
“I do feel like there is no shame in using ART,” said Nader, a 28-year older woman from the eastern town of Dheisheh, who gave birth in March.
“Some of my friends are using ART, and they are really happy about it.
There is nothing wrong with it.”
But Nader said the stigma around ART still affects her and her friends.
“Many people think we are selfish and want to use it, but I feel like I have been judged by people and I am not happy about this.
We are here to help other people,” she told RTE.
“Sometimes people think they are doing something for us but they don’t understand how we can help them.”
But some are still hopeful that the government will be able to change this situation.
“This stigma is not something we want to see in Lebanon,” said Sabah, a 25-year young woman from Lebanon’s northern city, Arsal, who is currently using ART and is in her third trimester of pregnancy.
“Everyone is in a state of panic and they think