Global challenge of infertility: Embracing hope and solutions

By Esther Muhozi
On 11 December 2023 at 02:30

In a remarkable and unprecedented event, a 70-year-old woman in Uganda recently gave birth to twins after undergoing fertility treatment, making headlines as one of the world’s oldest mothers. Safina Namukwaya delivered a boy and a girl through cesarean section at the Women’s Hospital International and Fertility Center in Kampala on November 29.

The fertility center spokesperson, Arthur Matsiko, reported that Namukwaya is in good health, walking and talking around the hospital, defying expectations and celebrating the marvels of modern fertility treatments.

Namukwaya’s case shines a spotlight on the evolving landscape of reproductive healthcare, challenging conventional notions of age and fertility. In times past, such a birth might have been deemed a miracle, emphasizing the transformative impact of technology on the possibilities of parenthood.

However, Namukwaya’s extraordinary story also highlights the broader global issue of infertility. According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 17.5% of the adult population worldwide, or 1 in 6 people, experience infertility at some point in their lives.

These alarming statistics underscore the pressing need to enhance access to affordable and high-quality fertility care for those grappling with infertility.

The WHO report, released in April 2023, revealed that infertility does not discriminate, affecting individuals across high-, middle-, and low-income countries. Lifetime prevalence rates stand at 17.8% in high-income countries and 16.5% in low- and middle-income countries, demonstrating the universality of this health challenge.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at WHO, emphasized the importance of recognizing infertility as a significant public health concern. He urged the need to widen access to fertility care and ensure that the issue is no longer sidelined in health research and policy. The report brings attention to the fact that infertility, defined as the failure to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse, causes distress, stigma, and financial hardship, impacting mental and psychosocial well-being.

Despite the widespread impact of infertility, solutions for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, including assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), remain underfunded and inaccessible for many. High costs, social stigma, and limited availability often prevent individuals from seeking infertility treatments or push them into poverty due to the financial burden.

Dr. Pascale Allotey, Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO, highlighted the significant equity issue at play. Millions of people face catastrophic healthcare costs when seeking infertility treatment, turning it into a medical poverty trap. Better policies and public financing, she argues, can significantly improve access to treatment and protect vulnerable households from falling into poverty as a result.

In the wake of Namukwaya’s extraordinary birth, the global conversation surrounding infertility takes center stage. The need for increased awareness, improved access to fertility care, and the destigmatization of infertility are crucial steps in addressing this universal challenge and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to build the families they desire.