A new report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) today, April 4 says 17.5% of the adult population of about 1 in 6 people globally, experience infertility.
Infertility, according to the WHO “…is a disease of the male or female reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”
The report shows limited variations in prevalence of infertility between regions.
“The rates are comparable for high-, middle- and low-income countries, indicating that this is a major health challenge globally. Lifetime prevalence was 17.8% in high-income countries and 16.5% in low- and middle-income countries,” says WHO in a statement.
“The report reveals an important truth – infertility does not discriminate,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at WHO.
“The sheer proportion of people affected shows the need to widen access to fertility care and ensure this issue is no longer sidelined in health research and policy, so that safe, effective, and affordable ways to attain parenthood are available for those who seek it,” he said.
Yet, available alternatives such as assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) – remain underfunded and inaccessible to many due to high costs, social stigma, and limited availability.
The report notes that “people in the poorest countries spend a greater proportion of their income on fertility care compared to people in wealthier countries. High costs frequently prevent people from accessing infertility treatments or alternatively, can catapult them into poverty as a consequence of seeking care.”
“Millions of people face catastrophic healthcare costs after seeking treatment for infertility, making this a major equity issue and all too often, a medical poverty trap for those affected,” said Dr. Pascale Allotey, Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO, including the United Nations’ Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP).
“Better policies and public financing can significantly improve access to treatment and protect poorer households from falling into poverty as a result.”
The report, however, shows a persistent lack of data in many countries and some regions, which could potentially undermine the current figures.
“What WHO needs is a baseline on which we can begin to develop more evidence for the area of work to begin to make sure that the services are available. And so, this is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the importance of the issue and also for your anticipation, there will be a report that is the first guidelines that are developed for the area of infertility care,” Allotey said.
She said WHO was calling for greater policy prioritization of infertility.
“We’re calling for greater access to infertility services, and we’re calling for greater evidence, better evidence to be able to address the treatment issues.”