How IVF became a distant dream for the poor in Mumbai

“The entire set-up costs Rs 2 to 3 crore. A public hospital cannot afford it. Our department for reproduction and research was set up by ICMR and KEM and we did our research under their funds.”

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Published: March 10, 2016 3:09:16 am
Sweepers indulge in cleaning the entire premise of KEM hospital. More than a lakh patients visit the civic-run hospital for treatment on a daily basis on Sunday. Express Photo by Pradeep Kocharekar. 10.11.2013. Mumbai. Sweepers indulge in cleaning the entire premise of KEM hospital. More than a lakh patients visit the civic-run hospital for treatment on a daily basis on Sunday. (Express Photo by Pradeep Kocharekar)

In 1986, the city witnessed a medical marvel. Born on August 6 at 4.10 pm, Harsha was the first test-tube baby of the city and the second in the country. However, she is one of the few – precisely 22 IVF babies – born in public hospitals in the city ever since. In 1992, the KEM Hospital, where she was born, decided to shut the IVF department, terming it to be “too expensive” for a public hospital that provides free treatment to patients below the poverty line.

The other major public hospitals — JJ, Sion and Nair — never even attempted an IVF technique or surrogacy, leaving a huge per cent of infertile and economically backward couples with zero alternative. Meanwhile, private centres have been mushrooming providing packages ranging in lakhs for couples looking for surrogacy or IVF. In Mumbai, there are 46 IVF clinics registered with the ICMR, none of which are government centres.

Dr Indira Hinduja, the IVF expert behind the city’s first test-tube baby, says, “The entire set-up costs Rs 2 to 3 crore. A public hospital cannot afford it. Our department for reproduction and research was set up by ICMR and KEM and we did our research under their funds.” An IVF clinic requires an incubator, dust-free room, filters and specialised cleaning equipment to ensure the zygote is not infected. Just the medium in which the embryo is allowed to grow in the petri-dish costs Rs 5,000 for 50 ml and has a shelf life of 15 days. In the 80s, we had made the medium ourselves using purified water. The plant to produce that costs over Rs 5 lakh,” remembers Hinduja.

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Recently, Wadia Hospital initiated an IVF center on public-private partnership. “The cost is high as we need to use a range of filters to create dust free environment,” said Hospital CEO Dr Minnie Bhodhanwala. However, as test tube gets replaced by petri-dish to culture cells, and higher end techniques replace existing ones, BMC and government-run hospitals predict, the investment and training required for this facility will be harder to implement.

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