ABU DHABI // Up to 30 couples a day are seeking in-vitro fertilisation at a new centre for reproductive medicine.
Demand is so great that the centre, which opened in December at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, is placing applicants on a waiting list to be treated within three weeks.
Ninety per cent of applicants are Emirati, said Prof Human Fatemi, who leads a team of specialists from Belgium at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine, University Hospital Brussels.
"I am seeing around 25 to 30 couples for IVF every day," said Prof Fatemi, a consultant in reproductive medicine. "That is a huge demand."
Prof Fatemi is also involved in research into how consanguinity and Vitamin D deficiency in the Arabian Gulf contribute to infertility. Consanguineous marriage is a strong tradition in the UAE and throughout the Gulf.
One study of 301 women in Kuwait examined the effect of marriages between blood relatives on the fertility of female offspring.
The study measured the number of eggs in the ovaries of women whose parents were first cousins and the number of eggs in women whose parents were not.
"We found a significantly lower number of eggs, according to their age, based on the consanguinity," said Prof Fatemi.
"This is the first time it has been proved that the female offspring of consanguine parents seem to have a reduced ovarian reserve according to their age."
He stressed that the reduction would be seen in some and not all daughters of such parents.
"If you have too many similar genes, you are at higher risk of having more genetic abnormalities," he said. "So what's happening in nature is the preventing of having offspring most of the time."
Prof Fatemi conducted the study along with a German professor of andrology in a collaboration between University Hospital Brussels and the University of Munich. He expectes the full results to be published soon.
The rate of consanguineous marriage in the UAE varies between 40 and 60 per cent.
Figures for Abu Dhabi are slightly lower than average, with 19.9 per cent of Emirati marriages in 2011 between first cousins, and 32.3 per cent of marriages overall between relatives.
Prof Fatemi is also involved with another University Hospital Brussels and University of Munich study evaluating the correlation between a deficiency of vitamin D and a woman's number and quality of eggs.
The study, again of women in Kuwait, is expected to be complete in eight months.
A year from now, the reproductive medicine centre in Abu Dhabi will analyse its data to see whether it correlates with the research on the Kuwaiti women.
Vitamin D has a much bigger role in health than originally thought, Prof Fatemi believes.
"We thought vitamin D was important only for the bones, but now, in the past couple of years, we are gaining much more information on how important Vitamin D is - and not only for bones.
"It is, for example, preventing breast cancer, it is preventing colon cancer, it is stabilising or stimulating the immune system of the body and now we are learning that it has an impact on the number of eggs and the quality of eggs."
Lifestyle also has an impact on infertility levels, Prof Fatemi said.
"We know that obesity decreases the quality of eggs, it decreases the receptivity of the uterus and it reduces significantly the quality of the sperm.
"The other problem with men is smoking. We know that smoking severely decreases the sperm concentration and mobility and the morphology, which is the shape of the sperm."