Around 17.5 percent of the adult population — roughly 1 in 6 worldwide — experience infertility in their lifetime, according to a new report published on Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report shows limited variation in the prevalence of infertility between regions. The lifetime prevalence of infertility was 17.8 percent in high-income countries and 16.5 percent in low and middle-income countries.

“The report reveals an important truth — infertility does not discriminate,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, said in a statement.

“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 added.

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.

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Despite the magnitude of the issue, solutions for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of infertility — including assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) — remain underfunded and inaccessible to many due to high costs, social stigma, and limited availability.

Currently, fertility treatments, in most countries, are largely funded out of pocket, which often results in devastating financial costs.

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High costs frequently prevent people from accessing infertility treatments or alternatively, can catapult them into poverty as a consequence of seeking a career, according to the report.

“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 Pascale Allotey, Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO.

In addition to the high global prevalence of infertility, the report also 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.

The report is based on 133 studies, from 1990 to 2021, that provide insight into global and regional infertility prevalence.