R. Prasad (name changed) and his wife desperately wanted a baby. Their first experience at fertility clinic though, was so bad that it deterred them for a long time from seeking further treatment.
“Our first cycle of In vitro fertilisation (IVF) failed, and we had spent almost Rs. 5 lakh by then. The hospital did not treat us well, did not pay any attention to our treatment regimen and never told us about the procedures we needed to undergo. My wife also had mood swings because of the drugs. We then decided to stop treatment,” he said.
Five months ago however, the couple decided to try another hospital, and are now happy with the service provided. They have spent Rs. 1 lakh so far, and are hoping for a happy outcome.
The couple’s experience is not unusual. With infertility rising, clinics that specialise in assisted reproductive technology (ART) have mushroomed across the State. Chennai alone has about 20 large fertility centres, and several smaller ones.
Fertility is now a thriving business, experts say, but the lack of any regulation in the sector has doctors concerned.
“These days infertility is seen as a money-making business. Fertility centres require qualified staff and a proper laboratory set-up. Without this, treatment often fails, and the lives of patients are affected,” said Kamala Selvaraj, of GG Hospital. Dr. Selvaraj has specialised in infertility treatment for close to 22 years.
The Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill, 2010, which is yet to be tabled in Parliament, acknowledges the exponential growth of infertility clinics over the last two decades. It points out how, as of now, anyone can open an infertility or ART clinic. No permission is required to do so. The act seeks to regulate and supervise such clinics across the country.
Dr. Selvaraj said the act was desperately needed, as in the current set-up there was no one to oversee how the clinics functioned or deal with patient complaints.
According to Thankam Varma, medical director of Institute of Reproductive Medicine and Women’s Health, Madras Medical Mission, when the institute began in 2000, there were only about half a dozen clinics in the city. “Now, there are centres at every nook and corner. People from other parts of the country are also coming here to set up centres,” she said.
One of the most important aspects of infertility treatment, Dr. Varma said, was in helping the patient decide which procedure was suitable for her. “We need to be sensitive to the couple’s needs. Repeated surgeries can reduce ovarian function. Unnecessary surgeries, such as those for small fibroids, should be avoided. But this is not always the practice at many clinics,” she said.
Dr. Varma also stressed the importance of doctors assessing couples to see if they have the time to raise a child, before allowing them to be treated. As of now, there is no bar on the age of women allowed to undergo procedures, and so even women aged 55 and above have had treatment and delivered babies.
That there is a steady flow of patients to many of these centres throughout the day is an undisputable fact. The extremely high costs of the procedures — IVF alone costs close to Rs. 2.5 lakh per session — is generally not a deterrent.
C. Geetha Haripriya, medical director of Prashanth Fertility Research Centre attributed this to a rise in awareness levels.
“People read up on the internet and information spreads by word of mouth. In fact, many couples now come for pre-marital counselling to decide when and how they should have a baby,” she said.
The Assisted Reproduction Technologies (Regulation) Bill 2010 aims at:
-- Accreditation, regulation and supervision of ART clinics
-- Prevention of misuse of ART
-- Ensuring safe and ethical practices at all clinics
WHAT THE BILL SAYS
-Advisory boards to be constituted at national and State levels to regulate ART
-All ART clinics should register with an authority constituted by State
-Choice of treatment, advantages/disadvantages, limitations, cost of procedures to be explained in detail to couples
-Written consent to be obtained from patients seeking ART
- Determinig sex of child to be born through ART procedure is a criminal offence