For infertile couples, IVF is often seen as the last great hope. However it won’t solve the problem of age-dependent infertility in women and there is concern that it is used to deal with infertility in the male.
Professor John Aitken of the University of Newcastle points out that one in six couples are seeking assistance for infertility.
“Roughly half of the time it’s female infertility that drives the problem. The other half is male infertility but this is a completely neglected area.”
Prof Aitken explains that women are quite used to knowing that if they need to seek care or advice about their sexual or reproductive health, they see a specialist in the field of gynaecology, “But if you’re a male with a reproductive problem you have nowhere to go – we have no andrologists.”
Professor Aitken is also the President of the International Society of Andrology and says the need for male reproductive health specialists is long overdue.
“One of our ambitions is to get andrology recognised as a clinical discipline. All sorts of people fight over the infertile male. If you’re in Canada, for example, the urologist will claim the infertile male. In Australia or the UK it will be the obstetrician or gynaecologist who will claim the infertile male, although all they’ll probably do is ask if the man has sperm or no sperm and ‘can we do IVF’.”
“But believe it or not, in Germany it’s the dermatologist who will claim the infertile male. So there is nowhere for the male to go. There is no recognised discipline for male reproduction. There are a handful of specialists in the world who understand this area but not many.”
Professor Aitken is concerned that this lack of specialist andrologists means that healthy women are being treated in order to deal with what is actually a problem in their partner.
“Male reproductive issues are a major cause of infertility and it’s one which is now being addressed by assisted conception, but there may be better ways of dealing with the problem rather than treating the male’s healthy female partner. We shouldn’t be treating women to address the inadequacies in male reproduction but we will be until we understand more about male reproduction. Unfortunately, our knowledge of male reproduction is decades behind that of the female.”