For years, Chinese couples seeking the best fertility treatment had to travel abroad — to clinics in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, even the United States. Because of the government’s one-child policy, China did not encourage in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and the country’s few clinics lacked advanced technology.
Today, IVF is booming in China.
When the government lifted the one-child policy, in 2015, an estimated 90 million women became eligible to have a second child. In response, IVF clinics began sprouting up around China, where about 15% of couples face infertility.
With the Chinese fertility market heading toward $1.5 billion, China’s clinics are taking critical steps to improve their expertise and success rates. They are hiring the most skilled embryologists, following stringent sterilization protocols, and monitoring embryos with state-of-the-art equipment. Notably, top clinics are also taking an additional measure: installing Novaerus air-disinfection technology in the laboratory.
Removing airborne toxins in the lab is now considered critical to IVF success. In fact, lab air quality has such a striking impact on embryo development that an international team of experts deemed air filtration “essential” for maximizing implantation and live birth rates.
Fact is, IVF labs are not as pristine as they appear. Laboratories worldwide are actually swirling with gases and air particles that are proven toxic to embryos. These contaminants are generated by furniture, flooring, paint, cleaning products, monitors, petri dishes, test tubes, incubator parts, even clothing worn by staff.
“It is possible to find toxicity with nearly everything that is used in the laboratory,” concluded the expert team, after convening in Cairo, Egypt, to review research on IVF air quality.
Infertility in China: On the Rise
Nowhere is IVF success more critical than in China, where infertility is rising and the population is ageing, a combination set to trigger serious labour shortages and excessive demands on the healthcare system.
Even with the relaxation of the one-child policy, the Chinese birth rate has lagged behind expectations. Two years after the policy was abolished, the birth rate actually dropped.
China’s low fertility rate has multiple causes. As in other industrialized countries, more Chinese women are focusing on their careers and delaying motherhood until after age 35. Chinese men have high rates of smoking and excessive drinking, habits known to cause hormone imbalances that compromise male fertility. High stress, long work hours, and poor eating habits — all common among Chinese men — are fuelling the fertility crisis as well.
For both men and women, China’s severe outdoor air pollution also takes a toll.
Large sperm banks in Shanghai and Jinan have reported that about two-thirds of donated semen fail to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) standard. And a study at Shanghai’s Renji Hospital concluded that as outdoor air quality worsened over a decade, so did sperm quality.
Another study, conducted in Wuhan, China, found that men chronically exposed to high levels of ambient particulate matter had a significantly higher risk of abnormal sperm shape and size. Just three months of high exposure was enough to degrade sperm quality.
For women, toxic outdoor air is linked with difficulty conceiving, both with and without IVF treatment. A South Korean study found that compared to IVF patients who live in relatively unpolluted neighbourhoods, those exposed to high pollution levels have elevated rates of miscarriage.
“The impact of air pollution can be profound in couples who are suffering from infertility,” asserted the study’s lead author, Dr. Seung-Ah Choe of the School of Medicine at CHA University.
Of course, Chinese IVF clinics cannot control air quality outdoors any more than they can control the drinking, smoking or work habits of their male patients. So, to compensate for conditions beyond their influence, they must take all possible measures within their own walls to maximize IVF success.
This includes becoming more vigilant about laboratory air quality.
Part 2 of IVF in China: Cleaner Laboratory Air Boosts Success coming soon.