Fertility clinics see doubling of client load

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2007, 12:00am

More people seeking advice over difficulty having babies

The number of people using the Family Planning Association's subfertility clinics, which provide clinical assessment, treatment and referral to specialists for couples who have tried unsuccessfully to have babies, has nearly doubled in the past five years.

Apart from physiological problems, the association has found that stress caused by a heavy workload and insufficient knowledge about sex are among the problems couples face.

Last year, the association's four subfertility clinics saw more than 1,990 clients, a 90.4 per cent rise on the number seen in 2002.

A senior doctor at the association, Grace Wong Ching-yin, believed the surge in demand for help was linked to people's increased awareness they needed professional help.

'Thanks to the increasing availability of health information, people are more eager to seek help from professionals,' she said. To meet the demand, the association opened a new clinic in Tsuen Wan in March.

Fertility problems can be caused by a number of factors. For example, a husband may have a low sperm count or it might be low in motility (the ability of sperm to move and swim quickly). Also, a wife may have an ovulatory disorder or pelvic infection.

Statistics show female factors account for nearly two-thirds of cases, male nearly one-third, with about 10 per cent that can not be explained.

Besides physiological reasons, Dr Wong said some couples were very busy in their jobs. They tried to calculate the wife's ovulation cycle and had sex only around that time, thinking this was a more 'efficient' way to have a baby.

'However, it's hard to make precise predictions of ovulation. The fewer times you have sex, the chance of having babies is reduced. We encourage them to increase the number of times they have sex to around two or three times a week.'

Although times have changed and people are marrying later, with the average age of 31 for men and 28 for women, Dr Wong said the biological clock of humans had basically remained the same.

A woman's ability to get pregnant can dramatically decrease after she reaches the age of 35, while the motility of sperm in men can decline with age. But she said so far there was no evidence that the increasing demand for fertility services was linked to people marrying later in life.

'We respect people's choice on whether to have babies or not. We don't blindly encourage people to have babies, but we encourage [those who do] to use early family planning.'

Sometimes, it was a lack of serious lack of knowledge about the mechanics of having sex that led to unsuccessful intercourse, let alone having babies.

To improve sex education, the association launched a new sex therapy programme in February, which provides sex coaching, dysfunction therapy and talks on sexual activity.

'I think sex education in the city has improved in recent years, but there is room for improvement,' Dr Wong said.

In February 2005, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, when chief secretary, called on couples to have at least three children to help halt Hong Kong's sliding birth rate and this year proposed one-off direct subsidies or tax credits for families with newborn babies.

An advisory body has also proposed special paternity leave for civil servants and discounted tickets for family activities.

Increasing demand

The number of people seeking help from the Family Planning Association's subfertility clinics in 2002: 1,047

The number seeking help in 2004: 1,240

The number seeking help last year: 1,993