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DR GAUTAM ALLAHBADIA: THE MAN WHO REVOLUTIONIZED ASSISTED REPRODUCTION IN INDIA
A small bundle of joy and life - the inexplicable delight of conceiving a baby is tremendous. It provides perspective, meaning, and happiness to millions around the world. However, thousands of couples are often left childless, wanting a child but unable to conceive, owing to a bevy of medical issues.
With Assisted Reproduction Techniques like IVF giving these couples a renewed sense of hope, it would be unfair to overlook the efforts of the ground-breakers, who played a pivotal role in transforming assisted reproduction to the advanced level it has achieved today.
Often dubbed as ‘The Miracle Man’ by national and international media, Dr Gautam Allahbadia from mumbai is a man of many accomplishments. While his success as an IVF expert has brought him worldwide recognition, only a few are aware of his journey towards becoming a pioneer in assisted reproduction.
Gautam Nandkishore Allahbadia was born on July 7, 1963 in Mumbai to a family of doctors – his mother was an anaesthetist and his father was a gynaecologist. They worked for 13 years in Ireland. However, the family relocated to Mumbai before Gautam Allahbadia’s birth.
After completing his schooling from St. Josephs High School, Wadala, Mumbai, Gautam Allahbadia went on to study at Jaihind College & Basantsing Institute of Science, and completed his Medical undergraduate & Post-graduate education at the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical College & Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital. Thereafter he did numerous IVF fellowships in Canada, USA & Germany.
Reminiscing of his earlier days, Dr Gautam Allahbadia says, “I was very fond of art. I even passed the elementary and intermediate examinations. But because I was brought up in a family of doctors, I took up medicine. It was during my post-graduation in Gynecology, I got an exposure to the medical conferences organized by the MOGS (Mumbai Obstetric Gynaecological Society) which is the apex body of the gynaecologists.” Later he went on to become the President of MOGS in the year 2010.
Dr Gautam Allahbadia took up service as a lecturer at his alma mater, Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical College. This was followed by a 12-year stint at the University of Mumbai affiliated Bombay Hospital Institute of Medical Sciences, before he finally made the shift to private practice.
Around the time when news of the HIV virus struck the world, and the rise of an HIV epidemic in India, Allahbadia conceived an innovative idea. “In infertility, there is a term called ‘donor insemination’. Some men are born without sperms and they require healthy men to donate sperms. I realized that in India, there was a huge lack of sperms as they had to be HIV tested and there was no sperm bank run to ASRM guidelines in Mumbai. I thought of setting up an assisted reproduction or a test-tube baby centre. However, at that time I didn’t have sufficient funds,” he recollects.
Contrary to what people usually assume, Gautam Allahbadia’s ascent through the global medical circles wasn’t an easy one. “I started my private practice in the garage of my building. I converted it to a clinic and a small lab where we would do semen processing. In 1996, I opened a sperm bank and we found that there were huge demands too. By 2000, we had grown by 30 to 40 times. My father then handed over a small familial property and allowed me to use it,” the IVF specialist shares. Central Bank of India helped with a Medical loan to start the first Rotunda – Center For Human Reproduction at this location in Bandra, Mumbai.
We had to struggle a lot for the first three years, as there were not many patients. However, I continued writing papers and books in that period. Fortunately, I got some more awards in the West and that made me popular, and we started getting patients. I also had the privilege of being elected as the youngest president of the MOGS in 2010.”
After completing his training in IVF/ICSI at the University of Gottingen, Bielefeld IVF Center and the University of Munich, Dr Gautam Allahbadia was honoured with the ‘AOFOG-Young Gynaecologist Award’ in the year 1998. Allahbadia also has more than 150 peer-reviewed publications added to his credentials. His research bagged him ‘FOGSI-CORION National Research Award’ for best original research work in infertility, and six research grants from renowned institutions.
Talking about the way medical practitioners are perceived in India, Dr Allahbadia expresses his regret at people attributing good doctors to white hair, “I was quite young. There were doctors around who would get semen processed from us, take our reports, tear up our letterheads and show it as their reports. However, the main job was done at our centre. But since they were very old and senior doctors, people would still go to them.”
Although the IVF consultant was a known name in the West, the breakthrough for Dr Gautam Allahbadia as well as the assisted reproduction techniques in his home country came in 2004. The year witnessed some ‘firsts’ in the medical arena brought about by Dr Allahbadia – India’s first trans-ethnic surrogate pregnancy involving a Chinese couple’s baby delivered by an unrelated Indian surrogate mother, and India’s first same-sex couple pregnancy and delivery of twins.
Allahbadia feels that things have changed drastically since then, “In 1996, when I had opened my sperm bank, my parents were totally against it. I had no support at all. Also, when I started my IVF centre and took a bank loan, they were against it too. People used to criticise and look down on me because I used to collect people’s sperm. However, things have changed radically in last few years, “he says.
He adds, “Today, even single Indian women visit us to get pregnant. We have gay couples corning in for babies and there are no eyebrows raised. Under the provisions of the existing Indian laws at the time, our clinic was the only LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Trans-sexual) friendly clinic in India.”
Dr Gautam Allahbadia’s success is not limited to his work at Rotunda. He is the recipient of over 25 prizes and fellowships in the field. The most notable among them is the ‘Canadian Young Scientist Fellowship Award’ for the year 1994, which allowed him to train in Infertility at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Dr Allahbadia is also a proud recipient of the prestigious ‘Dr Kumud Tamaskar Award’ for original research work in infertility in the year 1991.
With a career spanning over three decades, embellished with numerous awards and accolades, Dr Allahbadia currently heads the IVF team and Millennium Medical Centre (MMC) IVF Dubai. He also works as an IVF specialist with Canadian Specialist Hospital, Dubai; Orchid Fertility & Andrology, DHCC Dubai; Dr Amal Elias IVF Center, Dubai, among other renowned medical institutions.
He is responsible for over 9000 babies in six continents across a career spanning 29 years now!