Hospital brings hope to infertile couples

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A childless couple is something that's not easily accepted in Vietnam's conservative society. Infertility puts a lot of pressure on Vietnamese women and affects the quality of their marriages.

The inability to have a child is often a significant factor in divorce.

According to the Ministry of Health, 7-10 percent of Vietnam's population is infertile.

In 1997, Tu Du Hospital became the first Ho Chi Minh City obstetrics hospital to open an infertility treatment unit.

One year after it was established, three babies were born thanks to the unit's application of advanced technology. To date, a total 4,080 babies have been brought into the world, thanks to the clinic's help.

Few foreigners sought assisted reproductive technology (ART) in Vietnam before 1999. Recently, Tu Du's program has become well-known in the expatriate community and abroad.

For the past nine years, almost 9 percent of ART clients at Tu Du Hospital have been foreigners.

The hospital's success has inspired others to open infertility treatment units. Tu Du itself has transferred technology to 13 units in other cities and provinces and several hospitals throughout Southeast Asia.

Vietnam now has a total of 14 centers for infertility treatment. Roughly 9,000 babies have been born here with the help of in vitro fertilization.

In vitro fertilization is the process of artificially implanting sperm into female eggs. The procedure has a higher rate of success (30-40 percent) than conventional conception, but it is also quite expensive.

In 2004, the country's first sperm bank was established at Tu Du Hospital. To date, 297 infertile cases have been treated using the bank's resources.

The bank does not accept donations from foreigners, according to an official at the hospital.

Hoang Thi Diem Tuyet, chief of Tu Du Hospital's Infertility Faculty, said the demands for infertility treatment are increasing. Thirty thousand infertile couples come to the hospital, seeking examination and treatment, every year.

"It is estimated that 20-30 women between 20 and 45 are treated using in vitro fertilization technology, every month," she said.

Last September, doctors at Tu Du Hospital began research on a new method which is 30 percent cheaper than in vitro fertilization and takes only a third of the time.

According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of the world's reproductively -challenged couples are husband-infertile; 30 percent are wife-infertile; 30 percent are husband-and-wife infertile, and the remaining 10 percent are not identified.

Representatives at Tu Du said their figures amounted to 39 percent, 27 percent, 21 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

According to scientists, stress, improper diet, and consuming contaminated food are the main causes of infertility.

Researchers say that living in a contaminated or unhealthy environment can cause infertility.

Local doctors say that late marriages and therefore births were one of the main causes of infertility in women.

They said that as early as ten years ago, most women had their first child when they were in their twenties. Now many couples marry later and often have their first child in their mid-thirties.

Meanwhile, infertility in men can be attributed to low sperm count. The condition can be brought on by drinking alcohol, smoking or wearing tight-fitting under-clothing which raises the temperature of the scrotum.

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