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Crackdown on infertility clinics

Ramesh and Anita Chandra, a childless couple, spent close to a fortune trying to have a test-tube child through in-vitro fertilisation. After several months of emotion-sapping trials, they were told that even the artificial procedure would not help them beget a child. Frustrated, they finally found solace in adoption. Some time later, another expert told them they could have had a baby of their own. The couple complained to the state health department and the Medical Council of India (MCI) , but that was all they could do.

With complaint after similar complaint pouring in — around 50 by now — from couples duped by mushrooming infertility clinics, the state government has decided to crack down.

On the block are some 20 infertility clinics, all located in and around the city, which will be “sealed for good” by early 2003. A team of doctors, considered to be experts in the relevant field, under the aegis of the Indian Council of Medical Research, will visit them, along with a police team, to identify and lock them up.

“The government is determined to wipe out these blots,” state director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said on Monday. Admitting that the government had no idea while granting licences what the clinics would turn out to be, Chatterjee said the government — with the complaints acting as “eye-openers” — had made up its mind to “do everything possible against them”.

The Union health ministry, too, had warned the state about the effects of such infertility ‘clinics’ on society, Chatterjee admitted.

Bholanath Chakraborty, the brains behind the first test-tube babies, said he had received patients who came to him after 10 years of doing the rounds of unscrupulous clinics. “This is a big problem and needs to be tackled immediately,” he added.

Other experts in the field said artificial reproductive techniques had come a long way in Calcutta since the first test-tube baby was born in 1978. But unscrupulous doctors exploited childless couples, the doctors added.

Over 100,000 couples in the city and its peripheries, according to rough estimates, have visited infertility clinics, most of which do not have the expertise to deal with the various aspects of the problem. An infertility clinic, depending on its reputation and the spending power of the childless couple, can make anything between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 3 lakh from each case.

“It is very unfortunate that of all people, doctors can think of making money by exploiting a family doing everything for a child,” said S. Ghosh Dastidar, another infertility expert. “This has grown into a major problem over the recent years,” he said, adding that the community was now determined to take action against “amoral physicians”.

Many of these clinics, say doctors, do not bother to inform patients of the hazards, the complications and the negative fall-outs artificial reproductive procedures may have. Many, they add, lack enough space and the proper infrastructure necessary for an infertility clinic.

The MCI recently decided to cancel the licence of any clinic against which there were “specific” complaints. Many do not screen patients for the mandatory checks, like those for HIV, hepatitis and syphilis, say experts.

But the saddest part, as Ghosh Dastidar stressed, was the “tendency” to cash in on a childless couple’s despair.

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