It’s a hot Friday afternoon in Gurugram. In a lane curiously called Dalal Street, tucked away into a far corner is a two-storied white and brown coloured building called Bourn Hall Clinic. It is an infertility centre that stands like an oasis—so full of promise, but its sprawling and plush waiting lounge is empty. Save for the receptionist, an assistant and a guard, there is not one patient in there.
This is how it has been for a while now. “On a good day we have three to four couples but many times we have no patients walking in,” says a person who works there.
Why is this bizarre, you ask? Well, waiting is the pet peeve of anyone who has been through infertility treatment. Waiting rooms of good clinics, especially, are flowing with desperate couples. Sometimes with no place to even sit. Some women actually quit their jobs because of the long hours of waiting involved.
Bourn Hall is a UK-based clinic, which has a string of superlatives attached to it. It boasts of having delivered the first baby born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Basically, its founders Dr Robert Edwards and Dr Patrick Steptoe figured out how to get a sperm and egg to fertilise in a petri dish; have it grow into an embryo in a lab and then finally slide it back into the womb. Dr Edwards won the Nobel Prize for it. So when a clinic with such a history and pedigree stands as empty as it does in Gurugram, it is puzzling.
Perhaps infertility is not that big a problem?
Far from it. India has close to 27.5 million couples who are infertile, according to a 2015 EY report. In fact, infertility is more common than even cataract—which affects about eight million.
It gets worse. Infertility is expected to rise further as doctors blame a cocktail of reasons—from marrying late to various environmental factors for it. Women empowerment too is to blame, it seems. As more women enter the workforce, the tendency to postpone having children is more commonplace. It’s something women in the West have been doing for long, so what’s the worst that can happen, right? But genetics has other plans. Research suggests that Indian women lose their fertility at least six years earlier than Caucasian women, according to a paper in the journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine published in 2013.
With these factors in place, experts anticipate a double digit growth in the infertile population. And they expect this to continue