1 in 6 will be unable to conceive a child, new WHO report estimates

"The sheer proportion of people affected shows the need to widen access to fertility care and ensure this issue is no longer sidelined."
Deena Theresa
Representational image.
Representational image.

Boris Jovanovic/iStock 

One in six people worldwide, or 17.5 percent of the global adult population, will experience infertility, a new report published by the World Health Organization revealed this week.

The report also stated that prevalence of infertility showed limited variation globally. That is, "Infertility does not discriminate," explained Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press statement, 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," Ghebreyesus continued.

Middle and low classes most affected due to inaccessible treatments

Infertility is defined as the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. It is known to trigger cause significant distress, stigma, and financial hardship, affecting people’s mental and psychosocial well-being.

The report analyzed 12,241 relevant studies from 1990 to 2021. A total of 133 records were selected and included in the analysis for the report. From these, relevant data points were used to generate pooled estimates for lifetime and period infertility prevalence, the release said.

Despite the enormity of the issue, solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility are largely underfunded and inaccessible to the middle and lower groups of society, with reasons ranging from high costs to limited availability.

Currently, people in the poorest countries spend a significant portion of their income on fertility care. Add to this the rising costs of treatment, which prevents people from accessing them or falling into poverty after 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."

It is to be noted that there is a lack of data in many countries and regions. This calls for more national data on "infertility disaggregated by age and by cause to help with quantifying infertility, as well as knowing who needs fertility care and how risks can be reduced," the press release highlighted.

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