DUBAI // Smoking, poor diet, obesity and a lack of exercise are contributing factors to why one in four men in the UAE have poor sperm quality - the most common cause of male infertility.
Men in the UAE are at far greater risk of infertility than their European counterparts, according to Bruno Rosset, one of the founders of Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Dubai, the UAE arm of the UK clinic where the first test-tube baby was conceived.
From his experience at the clinic, he said at least one in four men here suffer from the problem.
"Lifestyle is a big issue," said Mr Rosset. "The men are overweight, have genetically inherited diseases and poor nutrition. These are all factors that can lead to bad sperm quality."
However, men often reluctant to believe infertility is an issue that lies with them and this ignorance can mean heartache for a couple who might never realise their dream of a child, Mr Rosset said.
The challenge is to make men understand that infertility is not solely a women's fault, he said.
"Men need not to believe that if a woman does not get pregnant it is her problem," said Mr Rosset. "More often than not, it is they that are the problem. This is something culturally sensitive that needs addressing.
"Success rates could be a lot better if men were more open to this idea."
World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics show that one quarter of couples in developing countries are affected by infertility. Exact global prevalence of male infertility is unknown, but men are often less willing to seek reproductive health care, according to WHO.
"Male infertility is significant worldwide," said Dr Waleed Hassen, assistant professor of urology for Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and chief urologist at Tawam Hospital, the oncology centre in Al Ain. "I would think men make up about 40 per cent of infertility among couples, maybe higher."
Higher rates of male infertility could be attributed to congenital abnormalities being more common among men in the UAE, he said.
Dr Hassen said he believed that, in the UAE, and generally worldwide, there was a stigma towards infertility and being able to conceive, and this could delay those affected seeking help.
Educating men about infertility risks and lifestyle will be a major part of the work by staff at Dubai's preconception care clinic, Bourn Hall, which opened last week.
The Jumeirah clinic will work with would-be parents to assess their infertility problems, to increase the risk of fertility and address lifestyle issues that can often be the cause of conception problems, said Mr Rosset.
"Our research has shown how the health, nutrition and lifestyle of prospective parents affects not only fertility, but the child's health, which is why our work begins long before the first injection of hormones," he said.
Consultations will involve a health and lifestyle audit, taking into account any fertility issues and, depending on the needs of the individual, services would include checks on BMI, blood pressure, blood tests and genetic screening, nutritional and supplement advice and ovulation tracking.
"We see infertility treatment as a holistic approach," said Mr Rosset. "We want to channel the right lifestyle.
"The reason we came to the UAE is because we think there is a big, unmet need in the region that needs to be addressed."
Bourn Hall is where IVF began when the world's first clinic was founded in Cambridge, UK, by medical pioneers Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, in 1980. This came two years after their technique resulted in the birth of the world's first IVF baby, Louise Brown.