Exclusive chat with Jean Nassar, an obstetrics and IVF expert at One Wellness Centre, a reproductive health hub in Lagos, Nigeria.
Smack in the center of Victoria Island, Lagos, the One Wellness Centre’s (OWC) reception is warm, with people in green scrubs greeting visitors with smiles. The visitors have a variety of needs related to fertility and reproduction. Some are parents who need help getting pregnant, and some are here to freeze their eggs or sperm until they are ready to have kids. Some women are here to treat or prevent reproductive problems like ovarian cysts. Others come for cosmetic procedures that can improve their sexual health and pleasure. Chibuki Aigbe, the practice manager at OWC, took us on a tour of the facility.
We checked out the consultation rooms, a surgery, a pharmacy, offices, and an embryology lab. Each of these rooms is named after different types of lotus flowers.
“The lotus often takes the shapes of the vulva and womb,” Aigbe told us. “It symbolises different aspects of female sexuality, and that is why we have named these rooms after its various species.”
After the tour, we sat down with a specialist at the centre, Jean Nassar, a specialist with over 18 years of experience in obstetrics and in vitro fertilization (IVF), who’s also head of the IVF unit at St George’s Hospital University Medical Centre in Lebanon. We talked about the OWC’s techniques, technologies, and overarching mission: their passion for helping women have babies.
You have over 18 years of experience in fertility and gynecology. My first question would be, why did you choose to practise in Nigeria?
I first visited Nigeria two years ago and saw many health centres. I found a significant gap in the medical field here, especially concerning fertility, with its new techniques and technologies. And I wanted to bring all my expertise and the latest technology here to Nigeria to help people have kids.
What is One Wellness Centre’s mission, and what services do you offer? Why is it called a wellness centre, as opposed to a hospital or a clinic?
We call it a wellness centre because, even though we are presently dealing with fertility, we also plan to open an aesthetic clinic. So, it’s not just a fertility clinic.
It’s not just women’s health; it’s everything concerning women’s health and aesthetics. We have a widely experienced team (including myself), with specialists in IVF, high-risk maternal medicine, and foetal medicine. Dr Joe and I both have experience in Europe and Lebanon. Our embryologist, Dr Pamela Bazi, came from abroad as well. We used to work together and have had promising results, so we wanted to replicate that here in Nigeria. We’ve brought all our knowledge, new techniques, and technology concerning fertility. These include services like ovarian PRP [platelet-rich plasma] or ovarian rejuvenation. The ovarian PRP is a unique and promising technique that helps [older] women before 50 have babies. It’s a new challenge, and we hope to continue having great and favourable results.
I’ve noticed that in Nigeria, women seek help at an older age than the average in the world. We have a lot of women in their early to mid-40s just seeking fertility help for the first time. Age is critical in fertility, so that’s usually a challenge because sometimes we have to offer a boost before starting the IVF or the fertility treatment, so they can have their baby even at an older age.
Tell us a bit about the technology that you use to help these women.
We have the latest manipulators and incubators. Everything is very new and up-to-date, including the software. But what is exciting is the PRP, the ovarian PRP, which is ovarian rejuvenation. The way it works is that we take blood from the patient, and we take the plasma from it. Plasma is rich in cytokines and growth factors, so we inject both ovaries with this product. This helps stimulate the ovaries again to have new follicles, better quality follicles, and better eggs. This procedure increases the chances of the woman having a baby.
Does this work for women who are past menopause?
We haven’t tried it on women who are past menopause, but it can work for perimenopausal women. It’s also not just about fertility; it also works for menopausal symptoms like vaginal atrophy, where a perimenopausal woman might be experiencing symptoms like a dry or atrophic vagina, for instance. We perform vaginal PRP on the intimate area to restore normal sexual feelings and activity.
How do you ensure the security and privacy of your patients’ data, considering the sensitive nature of these treatments?
It’s very important that patients’ files are handled discreetly, so all the files are kept behind locked doors. These are physical files, but they’re also backed up online. And because of how sensitive the embryos are, our embryology lab is always locked and passcode-protected. Only the embryologist has the code, and nobody else is allowed to access it.
What steps do you take to create a supportive and empathetic environment for women with secure health?
Given how sensitive fertility is as a subject, we handle every part of the consultation with care; we’re very careful with how we talk to the patients. So we try to provide support for her psychologically as well because the patient’s state of mind is also important in this difficult journey and can affect the results.
That’s interesting. How so?
Psychology is essential because if the patient secretes oxidative stress inside their body, it can affect the egg quality and implantation of the embryo. And this is a fact that has been proven through studies. I’ll give you an example: a woman can travel and not have her period for 10 or 15 days or might get her period twice per month just because she’s in a new place or has a stressful event in her life. It’s the same way stress can affect the chances of having a baby or even responding well to medication.
But back to how we provide care and support: we try to prepare the patient for negative results. Even though our goal is always to have positive results, it’s not always 100% successful. So, we prepare her for the possibility of negative results, after which she can either return for another cycle or continue living her life normally.
What’s the success or failure rate?
The success rate depends mainly on the age of the patient. On average, it’s more than 50%, but it depends on the age of the patient. It’s on a case-by-case basis.
Can you share any success stories or testimonials that highlight the positive impact of OWC on patients’ lives?
We had a patient who was about 46 or 47 years old who did PRP here. She got pregnant spontaneously after the procedure, not even by doing IVF. So that’s why our work here is important.
We saw an andrology lab during our tour. Do you also work with men?
My work with men is mainly in andrology. So if there’s any sperm problem or any psychological issue with the husband or the male partner, I work on it with them and try to correct any sperm abnormalities. My work with male patients stops at surgery. They’re usually referred to other specialists if they need any form of surgery.
Have you encountered any cultural challenges with patients here that you don’t encounter in your other countries?
The main issue here is that patients don’t seek help early. Typically, patients should seek help after one year of regular unprotected intercourse without conception, but that’s not the case here. They often come here after five, 10 or 15 years. They don’t even accept treatment after one or two years, but those few years sometimes make all the difference in their chances of having a baby.
How does OWC stay updated with the latest developments in fertility and wellness research? Are there any ongoing research projects or collaborations?
I usually attend a monthly or bi-monthly medical conference in Europe. The last was held in July in Copenhagen, Denmark. The European Committee had the biggest conference in Europe. I also attend all the medical conferences concerning fertility around the world.
As technology continues to evolve, how do you see it shaping the landscape of women’s fertility? For instance, do you think there’s a place for AI in the industry?
At the conference in Denmark in July, for the first time, we talked about AI and IVF. The future is promising, as AI will be able to choose the best embryo to be transferred to a woman. And I think we will be there very soon, maybe within the next one or two years. It will replace many of the technologies used to select the best embryos. Usually, there’s no clear answer as to which embryos to transfer. With AI, we’ll have an answer.
That’s exciting. What other emerging technologies do you think will be useful in the industry?
It’s just AI for now, and I’m very excited about it.
How accessible do you think your services are, especially given the economic situation here?
We try to give some discounts or sometimes free consultations. It depends on the case. For instance, if a patient tries IVF for the second time, we give them a discount.
Do you think AI can make your work or the procedure cheaper for people?
I don’t think so because AI won’t replace human expertise regarding surgery or [egg] retrieval.