Infertility among Indian men is on the rise, according to all recent surveys. While it was always the women who were blamed for failing to conceive earlier, the trends show that men are now realizing their own inadequacies amid a spurt in sperm donation and growing awareness on the issue. The roaring success of Vicky Donor in the box office brings the issue out of the closet. Sujoy Dhar reports
In India's lavishly mounted Bollywood movie industry, a small budget film on the rather forbidden subject of sperm donation created so much of a ripple earlier this year that it catapulted a TV anchor turned and small time actor into instant stardom.
Ayushman Khurrana essayed with effortless ease the role of a young sperm donor in the recent Bollywood film Vicky Donor, where he is shown driven to the action first by persuasion by a desperate fertility expert and then by the lure of easy money.
While the box office success of the low budget movie, which combines comic moments with the serious social issue of childlessness and sperm donation, is music to the ears of its maker, the actor surprised all when he admitted himself donating sperm way back in 2004.
" Sperm donation is nothing uncommon in India, but people choose to keep silent on it. I donated sperm eight years ago," Khurana, now 27, says.
While Khurana is trending in Indian showbiz and media circles, people suddenly talk openly about sperm donation in a country where childlessness is often a cause of social tension with women mostly blamed for the infertility even before their male partners undergo a test.
According to a 2011 study report by the Mumbai-based International Institute of Population Sciences, infertility is rising fast in metro cities and India, despite its 1.21 billion plus population, accounts for nearly 20 million infertile couples on an average every year.
The study also says that about half of the partners suffering from the problem are males.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has also found that the sperm count of a normal Indian adult male has come down to 20 million per ml from the 60 million per ml it used to be three decades back.
According to the infertility treatment clinics and doctors, there are more queries about sperm donation now than before the film.
"I definitely think the movie has done our industry a lot of good. I won´t say sperm donation was a taboo but it definitely was not as widely discussed as after the movie. More donors are now coming by," says Rajeev Agarwal, one of the Kolkata-based infertility treatment doctors who runs the facility Care IVF.
"Though more donors are coming forward, unfortunately a lot of them falsely believe the dramatization in the movie regarding the donor earning pots of money and receiving gifts etc," says Agarwal.
According to microbiologist Ashok Patel of Ahmedabad-based sperm bank and research institute in western India, there is a rise in the queries since the film's release.
"People are calling and in general there is a lot of interest, but I cannot say it will make a huge difference in reality," says Patel.
"It is not that easy to donate. It involves a legal procedure and medical tests," he says.
According to Charulata Chatterjee, Lead Embryologist, at Dr. Rama's Institute for Fertility, in Hyderabad, if for a good cause people are influenced by a film it is welcome.
Making of a sperm donor
But the film or other inducements apart, sperm donation is not like one walks it and walk out donating it.
"As per ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research] guidelines there are screening criteria which one has to follow. If a person fits in all that, he can be enrolled as a donor," says Charulata Chatterjee.
According to her, people who donate sperm combine a group who do it for money as well as a social service.
"Generally it will be combination of both," she says.
According to Agarwal, sperm donation definitely may be a way of earning money but hardly anyone comes with purely that motive.
"It's too tedious a task for just that. There is definitely an element of love and sacrifice involved," he says.
According to Agarwal, donors are recruited through word of mouth and through advertisements.
"They are usually between the age of 18 and 35 years. They should be graduates. They must possess looks that can blend into the background of the local region," he says.
The donor is asked to fill a detailed questionnaire about his and his family's health.
He is asked to detail his likes and dislikes, his sexual preferences, his political and social views, following which a urologist examines his general health.
"A sperm sample is now asked for, which is examined under a microscope. If he passes this test then his blood sample is drawn for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Thalassaemia and some other tests. Only 1 out of every 10 passes this and are recruited as sperm donors," says Agarwal.
The process does not ends here .
"A potential donor is then asked to give sperm samples on a regular basis, each sample after testing is frozen and donor is asked to come back after six months and his blood for HIV is tested again. Only if he passes this final test too, is the sample given and frozen six months ago taken used for patients," informs Agarwal.
According to the doctor, no differentiation is made on the basis of caste, creed or religion.
"When someone seeks a sample, we match it based on parameters like, height, body colour, eye colour, hair colour and blood group," he says.
Awareness for all:
According to fertility clinics, the film brought in public domain the issue of sperm donation, but couples who are childless because of male related problem know about sperm donation from beginning.
"It's not a new research. There are a number of semen bank or fertility clinics offering this service.
" It's not the awareness for the couples who are infertile because of male issue. It is about awareness for general population " says Chatterjee of Dr. Rama's Institute for Fertility.
While the movie broke the hushed silence about sperm donation, the mindset of the couples are also changing in recent times and with women asserting them more and husbands shedding their chauvinistic egos.
"I think couples are quite open and in fact I would say where I expected husbands to be chauvinistic, most of them are easily accepting their problems and donor inseminations," says Agarwal.
"Some of them have even gone on record saying that if the problem is from their side why should their wives suffer. Counselling makes a lot of difference," he says.
According to Chatterjee, couples in their city Hyderabad are ready for it if it is the only option to have a child.
According to Rajeev Agarwal, sometimes however things get tricky when the wife does not want the husband to know or the husband does not want the wife to know that the sample is donor's.
"We strictly discourage such couples and tell them that without the signed informed consent of the spouse, we cannot go ahead."
According to the doctor, another tricky issue is when the family comes forward saying to take the sperms of the brother or the father to keep the family lineage.
"This is again something we discourage both for social reasons and also the fact that we don't do fresh donor insemination.