PETALING JAYA: Late marriages, modern-day stress and a lower sperm count have led to a high number of infertility cases in Malaysia.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said there was an estimated 300,000 couples in Malaysia in the 20 to 40 age group experiencing some form of infertility, which could be a contributing factor towards the nation's declining birth rate.
Thus, there was a potentially large demand for fertility services, as there was only about one fertility specialist to every 7,500 infertile couples, he said.
“According to the Department of Statistics, our birth rate has dipped to 19.6 babies per 1,000 persons last year compared with more than 20 babies previously.
“To date, we have three public and 20 private centres offering test-tube baby services in one way or another. Of the 450 practising obstetricians and gynaecologists, about 40 have had training in assisted conception procedures, which represents the 1:7,500 ratio,” he said at the Tropicana Medical Centre (TMC) groundbreaking ceremony here yesterday.
The fertility centre is expected to be operational in 2008.
According to a 2002 World Health Organisation report, infertility affected 80 million people worldwide and an estimated one in 10 couples.
“One of the key criteria in determining the selection of a fertility treatment centre is the pregnancy rate, which served as an acceptable measure of its success,” said Dr Chua, who urged local in-vitro fertilisation centres to have transparency by reporting their pregnancy rates.
Dr Chua said health tourism had been identified as one of the economy's growth catalysts but cautioned of stiff competition from countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.
“Health tourism has great potential here due to our skills and expertise, reasonable prices and our multiracial environment but it is important to have a centre that offers a niche market, which gives us an advantage over the others.
In the first three quarters of last year, foreign patient arrivals increased by 33% over that in 2004 to 172,313.
Income from these arrivals went up by 13% to RM109mil.
“But this is a gross underestimate of the health tourism's economic value as some private hospitals refused to cooperate with us by furnishing data on patients, treatment and revenue, which we need to formulate strategies for health tourism,” he said.
“Some say they do not have the time or any foreign patients but we do not believe them. Maybe they are worried that their information will be shared with their competitors.”
Dr Chua hoped that an administrative condition could be placed in the Private Healthcare Facilities Act to require private hospitals to provide such information.
Owned by TMC Life Sciences Bhd, TMC is a specialist centre for women and children that focuses on obstetrics and gynaecology.