What is the history of The Walking Egg?
In 1993, the international meeting for ‘Andrology in the Nineties’, held in Genk, Belgium, attracted more than 700 clinicians and scientists from more than 40 different countries, all of whom specialized in infertility. It also resulted in the meeting of artist Koen Vanmechelen and fertility specialist Willem Ombelet. Although they came from two very different domains, these domains both developed from a sense of amazement and a desire to understand human identity. The contact between the scientist and the artist resulted in an enigmatic glass egg with the legs of a chicken: ‘The Walking Egg’. Three years later, in 2000, the first issue of ‘The Walking Egg’ magazine was published. It was a unique blend of science, art and philosophy, to name but a few of its perspectives. From the start, the concept sounded like a real program: to bridge the gap between science and art and alter traditional discourse between two disciplines believed to be in opposition with each other. The following two years were spent brainstorming, working, travelling, discussing, talking and exploring. The outcome of this artistic-scientific cross-fertilization was expressed in six issues of ‘The Walking Egg magazine, an international journal which was distributed to infertility specialists worldwide. On the occasion of the opening of the fully renovated fertility department of the Genk Institute for Fertility Technology in August 2006, the artistic project ‘Born’ was exhibited. A general concept focusing on the egg, it remains on permanent display in the fertility department. In December 2007, a scientific-artistic project was set up in Arusha, Tanzania, in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is an environment where climatological and hygienic conditions are not the most favorable. It represented the start of a focus on infertility and childlessness in developing countries, in cooperation with the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) Special Task Force on ‘Developing countries and infertility’.
In March 2010, therefore, The Walking Egg non-profit organization was founded by four members: Annie Vereecken, Rudi Campo, Willem Ombelet and Koen Vanmechelen to among other things provide affordable fertility services across the world. The four members relationship with Jonathan Van Blerkom, an Embryologist, led to the introduction of the Walking Egg (tWE) IVF method which resulted in the delivery of the first tWE IVF baby in the year 2013. Until today (31st December, 2018), more than one hundred and thirty (130) children have been born from the method
What is the philosophy of The Walking Egg?
Creativity and beauty are the junctions where art and science meet. Earlier on, Koen Vanmechelen and Willem Ombelet recognized both disciplines have a complementary relationship. The study of the inner world is incomplete without that of the outer. They aim to organize debates between scientists, politicians, artists, philosophers, etc. on topics associated with human reproduction, and more specifically, on the topic of childlessness in countries with limited resources.
Global access to (in)fertility care
The Walking Egg believes that fertility care is a neglected aspect of family planning in many countries worldwide. Right from the start in 2010, we opted for a multidisciplinary and global approach to realise affordable and accessible infertility programmes.
In corporation with European Society of Human reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) and World Health Organisation (WHO), we gather medical, social and economical scientists and experts along with artists to discuss and work together towards our goal.
We aim to strengthen fertility care through innovation and research, advocacy and networking, training and capacity building, and service delivery.
Research and innovation
There’s a need for research on social, cultural, ethical, religious and juridical aspects of infertility in resource-poor countries. What are the pathways to healthcare and treatment access? What are the financial and economical consequences of infertility treatment compared to the actual situation? We also aim to initiate and expand an international network of social science research (in broad sense) in these fields.
In order to make fertility care more affordable in developing countries, effective, cheap and safe stimulation schemes for intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) are established. A review of the literature and feasibility studies are performed to examine the value of these protocols in resource-poor settings. A major challenge is to reduce costs of laboratory procedures, namely fertilization and culture of eggs and embryos. Different options and approaches have been developed or are presently being field-tested with very promising results.
Advocacy and networking
Global access to fertility care can only be implemented and sustained if it is supported by local policy makers and the international community. Many international organizations have already expressed their desire to collaborate including WHO, ESHRE and International Society for Mild Approaches to Assisted Reproduction (ISMAAR). We will also need the media, patient organizations and interested politicians to help change the existing moral and socio-cultural beliefs that are isolating and ostracizing childless couples.
Training and capacity building
Regular training courses on the diagnosis and prevention of infertility in developing countries have to be organized including endoscopic surgery, the clinical aspects of IUI and IVF and the laboratory aspects of IVF/ICSI. Training, quality control, regular audit and systems of accreditation and registration should be implemented in order to maintain appropriate standards of care.
The ultimate aim is to establish high-quality and affordable fertility services wherever needed. Diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and protocols should be affordable, effective, safe and standardized. Ideally, infertility management should be integrated into sexual and reproductive health care programmes. Since the delivery of the first tWE IVF baby in Belgium in the year 2013, several improvements have been made to make our services outstanding.