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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Afghans 'visit India sperm banks'
By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

Men in Afghanistan
The sperm count of Afghan men could be affected by war
Doctors in India's oldest semen bank say that a growing number of couples from Afghanistan are visiting the country to look for donor sperm.

Unable to conceive, these couples look to Indian semen banks for help as India is the only country in South Asia where the banks are located.

Afghan couples tend to prefer sperm donated from Kashmir as they come from a similar ethnic stock.

India has 10 sperm banks in a country where the population is over a billion.

'Hormonal disturbances'

Infertility is a sensitive issue in this part of the world and there is a stigma attached to those who cannot conceive.

Dr Iqbal Mehdi, who runs India's oldest semen bank, Cryogene in Delhi, told the BBC that at least 25 Afghan couples have recently sought his help.

"Sometimes a woman wanting to have a baby from Afghanistan will first come to look for medical help.

This week, BBC News is taking an in-depth look at the challenges facing Afghanistan's people and the peacekeepers.
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"If she is cleared and the problem is with her husband's low sperm count or no sperm count, they opt for Indian donors," Dr Mehdi said.

"It is very difficult to get donors. But we have a few semen samples of Kashmiris, and Afghans prefer those donors as their racial characteristics are similar."

A Persian-speaking gynaecologist, Helai Gupta, has been treating Afghan couples for infertility for the last eight years.

Women in Afghanistan
Women are seldom to blame for the failure to conceive

Dr Gupta said the number of Afghan couples seeking donor sperm has increased since the end of Taleban rule.

"From all the Afghan couples who have visited me, it is the men who were either infertile or had erectile dysfunction.

"These men are surprised when after tests I inform them that it is they and not their wives who have a problem," she said.

Voluntary donors

She said decades of war and exposure to stress leads to hormonal disturbances that can lead to fertility problems.

Dr Gupta said that her education in Kabul and her knowledge of Persian have helped her to interact with these patients.

"They are comfortable with their anonymity here and that is what brings them to us," she said.

Close proximity to India has seen couples from Pakistan and Uzbekistan also visit the clinics.

Requests to set up similar banks have come in from Israel, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Dr Mehdi says semen samples are collected from different parts of India, supplied by healthy student donors with no medical problems.

He said a lot of time is spent convincing healthy individuals to become voluntary donors.

Doctors have to give each donation a detailed medical screening. Blood samples are tested over four months to rule out HIV and hepatitis infections.

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