Conflict blamed for increase in number of sterile men

Youssef Obeidi, 32, last week left Karada Hospital’s family planning clinic with news that he will not be able to have children unless he undergoes lengthy treatment to reverse his sterility. Doctors told him that in war conditions, there is a higher chance men can become sterile.

“For three years I have been blaming my wife because she couldn’t get pregnant. But after a long examination in this clinic, a doctor said that she was fine and in perfect condition to become a mother. For this reason, I had to have myself checked,” Obeidi said.

“Initially I refused [to be tested] because in our Arab society it is a disgrace for any man to be sterile. But later my desire to become a father overcame this and I went to the clinic, where I learnt that I couldn’t become a father because the low speed of my sperms cannot fertilize an ovule,” he added.

According to Dr Muhammad Bashier, manager of the family planning clinic in Karada Hospital, Baghdad, the number of sterile men in Iraq has increased dramatically over the past four years as a result of stress, depression and exposure to radiation and possibly chemicals.

Rise in male sterility

“Before 2002, the number of men seeking our services and advice were fewer than four a day, while we had 20 to 30 women every day. But today we have a minimum of 60 patients a day with men representing half this number,” Bashier said.

“It is very hard to tell an Iraqi man that he is sterile. We even had a doctor who was killed less than two years ago by a patient after giving him the news. In our research, we have discovered that most of the men who are completely sterile are from areas where radiation and chemicals from war have been present in higher proportions - especially in the south of the country and in the outskirts of Baghdad,” he added.

In addition, Bashier said some of the indirect effects of war, such as stress and tension, were also contributing to a higher incidence of sterility among men.

The wealthier of his patients are referred to the Princess Aisha Medical Complex in Amman, Jordan, which has a specialised department for family planning. Those whose sterility is caused by violence-induced stress are often cured when they seek treatment abroad, Bashier said.

“But for others, for whom the causes [of sterility] are more serious, the treatment is useless,” Bashier said. “Unfortunately, Iraq has a very deteriorated and old [medical] system and most of the time we cannot help because of a lack of specialised materials and psychologists.”