Bolatito Adebayo; Mary Edith
New findings by medical researchers from studies on reproductive health appear to have brought some relief for women in marital situations. Until recently, it was commonplace to simply blame the woman in cases of delayed conception.
This discrimination would, before long, be consigned to the dustbin of history like the ugly practice of killing of twins as more people get to learn that men are equally culpable for delayed or no conception at all.
Researchers who studied data drawn from medical records have found out that the number of men diagnosed with infertility problems doubled in the last 10 years. More troubling is the discovery by the researchers that the sperm count of most men has been in steady decline.
The findings showed that statistically, up to 50 per cent of fertility challenges being experienced by couples can be traced to the men and infertility issues increase in men as they get older too.
Explaining the reason for the emerging picture, Dr. Ada Okoro, a medical practitioner at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, said: “It is true that young men now can hardly produce healthy sperm that can actually get a woman pregnant and this is as a result of the high consumption of alcohol, drugs and smoking habit.”
Speaking on her experience with patients, Dr Okoro said: “In the case of a patient of mine when he was told that he was infertile, the man refused to believe. He said we gave him someone else’s result. We spoke with him at length, but he remained adamant. He insisted he would go elsewhere for another test and after he did that he came back to us and was willing to undergo the treatment.”
Another medical practitioner, Dr Uche Okenyi of Hovers Clinic in Festac Town in Lagos, agreed with Okoro and attributed the alarming development to the change in lifestyle of men, which he said had affected the quality of sperm produced by men.
“Although we don’t know the underlying causes of the increase in infertility in men, I think some of it can be traced to lifestyle changes.
“When dealing with men diagnosed with fertility issues we have to cajole and encourage them to come for test and treatment. For many men, semen analysis and sperm counts aren’t the most enticing topics of conversation,” Okenyi said.
Another doctor, Emeka Amadi, of LASUTH, pointed out that infertility is high among men who are above 40 years.
Dr Amadi affirmed that the record of decline in sperm count showed an average of 1.4 per cent every year. Moreover, another research jointly sponsored by the Division of Reproductive Health and the United Nations Population Fund found out that the changes in lifestyle have affected sperm count leading to the observed decline. The research showed that in Africa, the decline rate has been 57 per cent over the last 35 years.
Interestingly, Amadi opined that the reason some men don’t want to undergo treatment has more to do with their emotion and ego. In his words, “for most men, it becomes an emotional and egoist issue of not being able to perform their masculine duty. Some are willing to undergo treatment while others do not want to because of the shame, I guess, or other personal reasons.”
However, in an article published in the Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice and based on a research conducted on the semen quality of male partners of infertile couples in Ile-Ife, men who were in the age bracket 31-40 had a higher prevalence of oligozoospermia (also known as oligospermia.) Both medical terms refer to semen with a low concentration of sperm, a common finding in male infertility. Often semen with a decreased sperm concentration may also show significant abnormalities in sperm morphology and motility.
Similarly, in another online article published by the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, entitled, “High prevalence of male infertility in the South East”, and based on research study which involved 314 couples, who were thoroughly evaluated for the cause of their infertility in a clinic located at Nnewi and Awka in Eastern Nigeria, the findings showed that 204 of the couples had primary infertility and 110 had secondary infertility. The alarming thing in that research was that the number of males who tested positive for infertility was 133 (42.2 per cent).
Despite this high prevalence of infertility in men, women are still the ones running around looking for solutions to this problem. Many men hardly get bothered about this because they assume since they are men they automatically have no problems. The primary reason for this misconception is attributable to the wrong belief that has traditionally tied male fertility with their virility.
Gbenga Arowolo, a civil servant, who expressed his view on the alarming incidence of infertility in men, said: “Many men who are grappling with infertility issues think that they are less than masculine if they can’t get their wives pregnant right away.”
A man who simply gave his name as Williams who had dealt with infertility said that he had to deal with feelings of inadequacy when he was diagnosed in the hospital. He told Sunday Sun: “My wife and I were married for five years and we didn’t have a child, but thank God we have a son now. But to be honest, I was reluctant to visit the hospital because I assumed I didn’t have a problem. I later did and I found out I was the one with the problem. When the doctor told me I had low sperm count it was as if my life had fallen apart, I had to deal with guilt and I was afraid I might not be able to continue the genetic line in my family. I felt inadequate as a man and it was really an emotional period for me. However, the doctor assured us that it could be treated and with faith in God I commenced the treatment and here I am today. I am a father and my son will be two years old next month.”
The root cause of a man’s infertility may not be easy to establish because for about 50 per cent of men diagnosed with infertility the cause cannot be ascertained. In most cases the male fertility problems is more about the quantity or quality of the sperm.
Some of the common causes include: hormonal disorders, injury to the groin, surgeries, infections, exposure to poisonous chemicals or radiation (this is common in cancer survivors). There are also lifestyle choices, which can affect men’s fertility such as wearing tight underwear, smoking, alcohol abuse and other drugs. Although the root causes for these problems are not clear there are treatment options for the underlying problems.
Despite the fact that in this part of the world, the wife is usually blamed when there is infertility, the new findings should begin to change this wrong perception. So experts advised that more attention should be given to male partners whenever a couple is battling with infertility. Also, there is a need for advocacy for men to accept responsibility for their infertility and help reduce stigmatization against women.