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Feature Infertility Treatment

Can India save its Parsi community with assisted reproduction?

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 18 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7530
  1. Jeetha D’Silva, freelance journalist, Mumbai
  1. j.dsilva{at}

The size of the Zoroastrian population is in sharp decline, reports Jeetha D’Silva, so the federal government has decided to fund advocacy and in vitro fertilisation in the hope of bucking the trend

A select team of doctors from throughout India will soon be working on an initiative that is as much of demographic importance as it is of medical interest. This government led programme, Jiyo Parsi, intends to use medical technology to boost the population of the fast shrinking Parsi community—the Zoroastrians of India—a distinct ethno-religious minority community that has made considerable contributions to India’s economic and social development.

Parsis—a population in decline

India’s population of Parsis has declined from 114 890 in 1941 to 69 001 in 20011—a paradox in a country that is grappling with a burgeoning population of more than 1.2 billion. A government document on the community has stated that only one Parsi family out of nine has a child below the age of 10.2

A 2011 study found that the main factor behind the sharp fall in Parsi numbers is the abysmally low fertility of the community, as expressed by a total fertility rate of only 0.89 children per woman in 2001, well below 2.1 children, the rate that is required for a stable population.3 The study, which was conducted by Zubin Shroff, then a doctoral candidate, and Marcia Castro, professor, both at the Harvard School of Public Health, also found that fertility in the community has been declining for more than a century: the total fertility rate among the Parsis in Mumbai was 4.41 children in 1881, declining to 0.94 in 1999. Deaths have exceeded births in every year since 1955, and the decade 1961-70 was the first period when the total fertility rate was found to have fallen below the level necessary to …

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