According to a new report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), large numbers of people are affected by infertility in their lifetime.
Data show that around 17.5% of the adult population – roughly 1 in 6 worldwide – experience infertility, which is defined as failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
The report found that the prevalence of infertility, which is a disease of the male or female reproductive system, is common between regions, indicating that this is a major health challenge globally.
Statistics indicate that lifetime prevalence was 17.8% in high-income countries and 16.5% in low- and middle-income countries.
“The report reveals an important truth – infertility does not discriminate.
“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,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The agency believes there is an urgent need to increase access to affordable, high-quality fertility care for those in need.
Despite the magnitude of the issue, solutions for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infertility such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) remain underfunded and inaccessible to many due to high costs, social stigma and limited availability.
According to WHO, in most countries, fertility treatments are largely funded out of pocket, while people in the poorest countries spend most of their income on fertility care compared to people in wealthier countries.
“Millions of people face catastrophic healthcare costs after seeking infertility treatment, making this a major equity issue and all too often, a medical poverty trap for those affected,” said Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO, Dr Pascale Allotey.
“Better policies and public financing can significantly improve access to treatment and protect poorer households from falling into poverty as a result,” said WHO.
While the new report shows convincing evidence of the high global prevalence of infertility, it highlights a persistent lack of data in many countries and some regions.
The WHO has since called for greater availability of national data on infertility disaggregated by age and causes to help with quantifying infertility, as well as knowing who needs fertility care and how risks can be reduced.
The study provides insight into global and regional infertility prevalence by analysing all relevant studies from 1990 to 2021, taking into account different estimation approaches used.
The search identified 12 241 records of potentially relevant studies across the world, which led to 133 studies that were included in the analysis. – SAnews.gov.za