Infertility is a growing problem among young couples in Ho Chi Minh City, doctors say. What's worse, the city is short on sperm.
Some desperate couples have even turned to anonymous online sources that offer to help them conceive, in the biblical sense.
Doctor Hoang Thi Diem Tuyet, head of the Infertility Faculty at Tu Du, the city's leading Obstetrics and Gynecology hospital, says 32,020 couples sought help for conception during the first nine months of this year"”up 6.5 percent year-on-year.
Every day, around 150 people seek consultation and examination for infertility at the hospital, Dr. Tuyet said. Around 10 percent of those couples require in vitro fertilization (IVF)"”a process in which the female egg is fertilized from outside the body.
"Since the faculty was established [in 1997], nearly 4,000 children have been conceived through IVF," she said.
In the statistics release by Tu Du Hospital, 39 percent of the infertility cases are attributed to husbands, 27 percent to wives and 21 percent to problems with both parties. The cause of 13 percent of said cases has not been determined.
"The demand for infertility treatment has been increasing," said doctor Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong, head of the Infertility Faculty at Hung Vuong Hospital.
Every day, the Hung Vuong faculty sees between 80-90 couples. Doctors here prescribe in vitro fertilization to between 20 and 30 couples each month, according to Dr. Suong.
Most of the patients at the clinic range between 31-35 years of age and come from all walks of life. Some couples are in their early twenties.
In many cases, infertile couples put off conception for work or financial reasons for many years after marriage. They may use a variety of different birth control measures during that period, said Ho Manh Tuong, general secretary of the HCMC Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Association.
"The pressure of life, of work combined with dietary and environmental conditions cause conception problems," Tuong said.
Despite a growing demand, hospitals are chronically short of good sperm.
Tu Do Hospital only releases sperm from its bank after a healthy deposit is made.
Dr. Tuyet said that once a physician at Tu Do advises a couple to go in for an IVF, the husband and wife then have to track down a sperm donor. It's not been official how much the donors would get.
Many couples can't get over the embarrassment of asking anyone for help. In some cases, Tuyet said, their own families prevent them from using scientific intervention to effect conception.
Even when infertile couples find a donor, the deposit they submit is tested for several months to ensure it is viable and disease-free. Sometimes, if the sperm donation fails to meet hospital standards, it cannot be exchanged for a healthy sample.
Moreover, "it's not easy to find someone willing to donate sperm," said Dr. Suong from Hung Vuong Hospital.
Doctor Tuong said some couples waited so long for sperm donations that they gave up. Some were prescribed IVF at age 30 but had failed to track down a viable sperm donor by age 40, he said.
The doctor said some desperate couples appear enticed by illegal online sperm supplies or private clinics.
Health inspectors in HCMC recently found a doctor at a clinic in District 1 selling sperm for VND10- 15 million (US$513-770) per dose. The doctor further offered to inject the healthy sperm into the wife's reproductive system for VND5 million.
Many men have been selling sperm online for between VND4-16 million ($205-820) - some even offer to deliver their sperm directly into the womb.
Doctors say these practices can result in infectious diseases and do not guarantee success because the sperm has not been tested.
Dr. Tuong, of the city infertility association, asserted that the government should actively encourage people to donate sperms; they are donating other organs, he pointed out.
Yet Tuong did express concern that too much sperm donation might cause blood relation problems, later.