A stigma for many: every sixth person is temporarily infertile

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A stigma for many
Every sixth person is temporarily infertile

A meta-study by the World Health Organization shows that 17.5 percent of all men and women worldwide are unable to father children at some point in their lives. The reasons for this are still unclear, but one fact seems to be clear: “Infertility does not discriminate.”

According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), one in six people of childbearing age is at least temporarily infertile. With no major regional variations, 17.5 percent of all men and women globally are “affected by the inability to father a child at some point in their lives,” the WHO said. It is “no matter where you live and what resources you have”.

According to WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the report – the first of its kind in a decade – shows “an important truth: infertility does not discriminate.” The WHO calls for an urgent improvement in access to fertility treatment.

Infertility is defined as the absence of pregnancy after at least 12 months of unprotected sex. The WHO report did not examine the causes of infertility or differential infertility rates between the sexes. Instead, it is a meta-study based on data collected worldwide between 1990 and 2021 and is initially intended to estimate the global and regional prevalence of infertility. According to the WHO, better data is urgently needed for a more detailed study – in some countries, for example, only adults up to a certain age are recorded.

“From the data we have, we cannot say whether infertility is increasing or staying constant (…) This is an undecided question,” said James Kiarie, Head of WHO’s Division of Contraception and Fertility.

Criticism of expensive fertility treatments

The WHO criticized the still very high costs of fertility treatments. In addition, the inability to give birth is associated with a high stigma, especially among women. “There are significant societal pressures associated with reproduction,” said Pascale Allotey, head of WHO’s Division of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research. In many countries “pregnancy is still decisive for the reputation of a woman”. Because of infertility, women are at increased risk of being subjected to violence by their partner.

According to the WHO, the high global rate of men and women who are at least temporarily infertile shows the need to focus on the topic and reduce treatment costs. “Safe, effective, and affordable ways of parenting must be made available to those who aspire,” said Tedros.



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