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Infertility affects one in six worldwide, large-scale WHO analysis finds

About 17.5% of the global adult population, or roughly one in six, will experience infertility at some point, according to a report recently published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with the first estimates of infertility prevalence in more than a decade.

It also shows a persistent lack of data in many countries and some regions, calling for greater availability of national information 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.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said the report underlined the magnitude of infertility as a public health issue globally, and showed there was an urgent need to expand access to prevention, diagnosis and treatments.

“The report reveals an important truth – infertility does not discriminate,” he said.

Strikingly, reports The Guardian, the new estimates, based on more than 100 studies conducted between 1990 and 2021, show limited variation in prevalence between regions.

The rates are also comparable for high-, middle- and low-income countries, suggesting infertility is a serious health challenge in every community, country and region of the world. Lifetime prevalence was recorded as 17.8% in high-income countries and 16.5% in low- and middle-income countries.

“The causes are varied and often complex, and it is something that both men and women experience,” said Tedros. “A variety of people may require fertility care.

“Access to sexual and reproductive health services is the primary way for people to have their best chance of having children … however, in most countries, these services are inadequate.”

Solutions for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infertility – including assisted reproductive technology such as IVF – remain underfunded and inaccessible to many, due to high costs, social stigma and limited availability, the report said.

In most countries fertility treatments are largely funded privately – often resulting in huge financial costs.

People in the poorest countries spend a greater proportion of their income on fertility care compared with people in wealthier countries, the report says.

“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, the director of sexual and reproductive health and research at the WHO.

“Better policies and public financing can significantly improve access to treatment and protect poorer households from falling into poverty as a result.”

WHO report on infertility
The Guardian article – One in six people worldwide affected by infertility, WHO reports (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Infertility rates double in Switzerland in less than 10 years


Infertility treatments raise risk of vascular and pregnancy complications


Men’s age more of an impact on fertility than previously realised – UK study


Unregulated US fertility industry a haven for controversial services




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