Large numbers of people are affected by infertility in their lifetime, showing the urgent need to increase access to affordable, high-quality fertility care for those in need, the UN agency said.
The new estimates show limited variation in the 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 per cent in high-income countries and 16.5 per cent in low- and middle-income countries.
Infertility 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. It can cause significant distress, stigma, and financial hardship, affecting people’s mental and psychosocial well-being.
Despite the magnitude of the issue, solutions for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of infertility, including assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilisation remain underfunded and inaccessible to many due to high costs, social stigma, and limited availability.
“At present, in most countries, fertility treatments are largely funded out of pocket – often resulting in devastating financial costs. 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 can catapult them into poverty as a consequence of seeking care,” the WHO said in a press statement made available to our correspondent.
The Director General of the global health body, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said 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,” he said.
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.
It calls for greater availability of 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.
WHO is calling for greater policy prioritisation 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.”