x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

In vitro births are a medical triumph

Besides being a cause of some divorces, infertility is a cause of deep heartache for couples that had planned to produce offspring

Scattered around the world, there are about 5.5 million people under 36 years of age who have something in common. They are not a tight-knit community: they live in many different countries and are of virtually all races and colours and faiths and ways of life.

What these people have in common is that they all began life in a test-tube.

Briton Louise Brown, the first person ever born as a result of in-vitro fertilisation, turned 35 last month. She was headline news in 1978, but today in-vitro technology has improved so much and spread so widely that the process attracts little attention, except for the joy it brings to couples whose efforts to reproduce require this high-tech help.

IVF, as the method is known, has become one of the great success stories of modern medicine. And the UAE has shared increasingly in this success since the UAE's first IVF clinic opened in Dubai in 1991.

Today, the service is conveniently available to couples across the country and around the GCC. And demand for it appears to be continuing to grow. As The National reported recently, as many as 30 couples a day - 90 per cent of them Emirati - are inquiring about IVF treatments at one prominent Abu Dhabi clinic alone.

Techniques have improved steadily since John and Lesley Brown welcomed little Louise, and IVF can now help couples with a wide range of fertility problems. The success rate, once just 10 per cent, is now around 50 per cent, experts report.

With this scientific progress has come a corresponding change in social attitudes. In this country, as elsewhere, one advantage of increased public familiarity with the idea of IVF is that the stigma that once accompanied it has dissipated. Would-be parents used to ask to use the back door at clinics, so as to avoid being seen, recalls Dr Pankaj Shrivastav, who opened that first UAE clinic more than two decades ago. But that does not happen any more.

The medical act has an important social dimension. Besides being a cause of some divorces, infertility is a cause of deep heartache for couples that had planned to produce offspring. Becoming a parent is after all one of the ultimate human experiences, and making this available to many of those who seek it bestows an enormous benefit.