Dr Michael Ogunkoya is a Gynaecologist and fertility specialist. He runs Hope Valley Clinic, Victoria Island Lagos, which has been helping people achieve conception with modern scientific inventions. He speaks with Sunday Oguntola on why many Nigerians are battling with infertility
Your clinic recently accomplished the feat of delivering of the 1,000th baby, to what will you attribute this? (July 2011)
1,000th baby! That was a milestone in our desire to provide quality healthcare to Nigerians. But that has come and gone and we are moving on. Permit me to say the feat is because of our determination and strict adherence to best medical practices obtainable anywhere in the world. In this clinic, we leave nothing to chances at all. We go all out to use latest technological innovation to bring smiles to face. But like I said, we are moving on. We are upgrading our centre in Kaduna to a full-fledged IVF hospital to cater for increasing needs in that parts of the country. Our success rate has also increased tremendously and we are happy at this. As at the last three quarters, it was 34 per cent and it is getting better now.
Are there things people do that make them more susceptible to infertility?
Of course, you are right. Let’s take women for example. Every woman has two tubes through which egg can pass for fertilisation. Once the tubes are blocked, there is nothing anybody can do about it naturally. So, any factor that will contribute to blocking the tubes will constitute an impediment to fertility. For instance, it is common knowledge that there is too much teenage pregnancy around and these girls will resort to abortion. That can block or damage their tubes if not handled well. This can be reduced by vigorous health education in our schools and public institution. So, those who have had abortion are very susceptible to infertility if it was not handled well. There is also the issue of multiple sexual partners…
…That causes infertility too?
Sure, it does. One could contact sexually transmitted diseases that may affect the chances of conceiving naturally. Once there is serious infection the tubes that translate sperms outside become blocked. Then, there is also the challenge of women who decide to get married late because of educational or professional pursuit. The end result is that they settle down for marriages late when fertility is very much on the decline and we would rather advise our ladies to settle down to marry early.
Once they finish their university education is fine.
When it is late?
Late is relative because fertility does not end at a particular age. So the best is once you finish your university education, settle down and marry. The earlier you start the better. By early 30s, fertility is already on the decline. By 40s, you might be needing egg from a donor.
What about men?
Yes, in men, we would be looking at smoking. It is a major cause of infertility. It has terrible ingredients that can slow down the sperm from moving and reduce egg production permanently. So, it is advisable people stop smoking heavily or stop it altogether. It is the same with alcohol consumption. Some men also wear hot pants that prevent ventilation in their private region. Then those who work in hot environments like bakeries, manufacturing factories and the likes are also at risk. It is also true for long distance lorry drivers who sit on the wheels for hours. This exposes them to infertility. Anything that can expose the testicles to heat is harmful for fertility. Once these things are stopped, fertility increases. These are harmful habits that promote infertility.
How do people feel after they are assisted to achieve pregnancy?
Of course they feel elated. They are like is this happening to us? I have seen a lot of that. Many will hug me and jump over me. For me as a doctor, it is also fulfilling. You never can tell how much people go through when they cannot have pregnancy on their own. It is such a shameful, distressing thing. So, when this finally gets it, they feel they have emerged through an ordeal that it is really. We have had patients from overseas coming around and saying it is absolutely unbelievable. For me, it is just the wonder of technology.
But there is the feeling that the assistance you render is not natural. Some women may feel ashamed to embrace it, feeling they cannot conceive on their own
You know those who come here have tried some options before. They have been to religious and traditional homes, seeking help for years. So for them to come means they recognise they need to be assisted. So there is no shame or bad feeling about it. Besides, there is nothing unnatural or artificial with IVF. It is simply a scientific method of achieving pregnancy practised worldwide. We don’t introduce anything other than sperms and egg, which are produced by the couples together. We simply monitor the mixture and ensure it forms pregnancy with technological devices. I think awareness has been poor and this is why many people don’t know what it is about.
How about cultural and religious perceptions that seeking assisted-conception is out of place?
Essentially, it is a matter of ignorance. If you are not challenged, you can sneer at those who seek help. But when it is you, you wouldn’t help where it is available. There are pastors who will say only God gives children and I agree perfectly. But we have pastors attending our clinic, getting help. The only way we can continue to convince people is to continue to talk about it and make them realise the process is as natural as scientific. Babies who come naturally are not different from the ones that come through assisted-conception. You find that those who were born through IVF now have children of their own. The babies do well and are not any less. Scientists have measured the intelligence coefficient of IVF babies and found out they are not lacking in any way. So what we do for couples here is to offer customised services that will maximise their chances of conception. The clinic itself is just in a matter of 3-4 weeks.