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Kolkata: Leading India’s Surrogacy Boom

They don’t mind the bad roads. The stench. Or the chaos on the streets.

Childless couples are coming to Kolkata from all over the world in search of the joy of parenthood.

The city’s fertility clinics have been visited by at least 50 patients on average every month for the past few months; double the number in the same period in 2011.

Experts say that the number could double again in the next two years.

Unknown to most of us, Kolkata is quietly turning into a global hub for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy.

Infertility treatment in Kolkata costs only a fifth of what it costs in the USA or UK but offers world-class infrastructure and facilities, say experts.  Besides, surrogacy is illegal in countries like Norway, Sweden, France and Germany.

Around 20 couples from USA, Japan and Bangladesh have sought IVF and surrogacy at the Nova IVI Fertility Clinics in Kolkata in the last three months.  While a majority were NRIs, around six were Swiss, Japanese, American or Nigerian.  Another city clinic has a waiting list of 70 foreign couples.
Most applicants are from USA, UK, Israel and the Middle-east, say sources.

“Every day we receive dozens of applications from around the world, mostly USA.  Most of them seek surrogacy because it is cheap in India. But we can’t take up more than three cases a month because we take the entire responsibility – from arranging a surrogate mother to taking care of the legal formalities after childbirth,” said a fertility expert at the clinic.

Around 5% of the patients at Genome, another leading IVF centre in the city, are foreigners. Genome, too, assists couples in finding surrogate mothers and even offers help to those who can’t travel to India. “We have a ‘surrogate house’ system under which couples can send their frozen sperms and eggs to us for fertilization. We select a surrogate mother, inseminate her and once she gets pregnant, we take care of her till the child is delivered,” said Aindree Sanyal, fertility expert at the clinic.

Surrogacy costs $15,000 in Kolkata.  In the US, it would cost at least $80,000, the biggest expenses being living costs for the surrogate mother, insurance and legal fees.

Plus, many states in the US have made surrogacy illegal. 

IVF treatment in Kolkata can cost up to $2000, compared with between £10,000 and $20,000 in the States.

It’s a long and complicated process, though.

First, the woman has to be given a series of injections to grow Ovarian Follicles, according to age and hormonal levels.  Once a sufficient number has developed, they are “harvested”.

Each Follicle with a mature egg is then separated from the water content and fertilized with sperm.

The embryos are put into an incubator and observed for 2-3 months.  The best one is then transferred back to the mother’s uterus.

The process gets longer in case of surrogacy.

A surrogate mother has to be identified, often by the clinic and observed. “Her physical condition should be suited for the pregnancy,” said Sanyal.

The surge in people looking for treatment in Kolkata bodes well for the city as an international medical destination, according to fertility Arindam Rath.  “Surrogacy and IVF are cheaper in Kolkata than even Mumbai or Delhi.  But the city has somewhat lost the advantage due to its poor connectivity.  Kolkata would have had many more foreigners if we had more direct flights to major cities in Europe and USA,” said Rath.

More and more foreigners are now discovering that Kolkata has made advancements in IVF technology.

“Other than the price advantage, there is also the legal factor. Since several European countries and American states prohibit surrogacy, couples start looking for options abroad. India is now among the world’s leading destinations that offer cheap treatment.  And Kolkata tops the list of Indian cities in terms of cost advantage,” said fertility expert Gautam Khastagir.

A fertility expert pointed out a British couple who have pinned their hopes on Kolkata after losing out in many other cities.  “Their IVF attempts failed in UK.  They registered with a clinic in Pune but it didn’t work either.  They came to know about our clinic on the Internet and believe we can help them have a child, even after being told that the attempt is likely to fail,” he said.

There are hassles, though.

Couples often expect miracles or come with strange demands, says one doctor.

A Chinese couple recently insisted on having twin baby girls at a clinic.  They were refused.  The clinics do not want to talk about patients due to a confidentiality clause.

“Even IVF is a taboo abroad. Couples don’t want to disclose surrogacy either. But there’s a huge demand for it and Kolkata is the preferred destination,” said Rath.

– Somdatta Basu & Prithvijit Mitra

This article was originally published by the Times News Network on August 12 2013

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