An advertisement which said "Choose from a bevy of healthy super-ovulated women to make your family complete" encouraged Audrey and Derek (names changed), residents of New Castle, UK, to go doctor shopping for a baby across four continents. Finally, they zeroed in on Dr Aniruddha Malpani, who runs the Malpani Infertility Clinic in Mumbai.
Audrey was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, having gone through multiple cycles of fertility treatment without any results. The couple had spent nearly 50,000 pounds in the eight years that they had been desperately trying for a baby. From swanky doctor studios they had even done the rounds of astrologers, herbal doctors and miracle-promising mendicants, driven by a single-minded obsession to become parents the biological way. This cycle of hope-disappointment-hope was finally broken when they had Derek Jr. through In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment in Mumbai.
Audrey and Derek are one of the many childless couples who come to India with the hope of going back home with their very own bundle of joy. Fertility tourism is big business now - the industry reportedly brings in hundreds of millions of dollars into the county. In fact, reports also suggest that the number of such cases has more than doubled in the last three years. The reasons: pocket-friendly treatment, world-class heath care facilities, a large base of English-speaking doctors, relatively fewer legal hurdles... the list is long.
Dr Vibha Bansal, a Delhi-based gynaecologist, elaborates, "Fertility tourism has received a great deal of media attention of late. The cost of IVF in the West is astronomical and countries enact laws that drastically curtail women's access to assisted reproduction. However, countries like Thailand, Russia, China and India, where such treatments are easily accessible, see people not only from the developed world seeking treatment but also from places like Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan, where such options either do not exist, entail long waiting periods or are not of a satisfactory quality." She adds that the government has made things easier by not cluttering the space with too much legalese.
According to Dr Malpani, "IVF, embryo adoption and egg donation are very popular and a major reason for this is its cost effectiveness." Take a look at the monetary contrast: At private clinics in the US, which do 70 per cent of all IVF treatment, costs can run up to $18,000 a cycle. Indian clinics offer the same at around $7,200. And to make the deal even more irresistible, many fertility centres offer package deals, throwing in plane tickets and hotel stay as well.