Sexual and reproductive health

Global prevalence of infertility, infecundity and childlessness

Back view of a couple walking away
WHO/Petra Nohavicova

The difficulty to address infertility prevalence is coupled with the lack of consistent use of definitions and lack of common tools to diagnose, manage or report infertile individuals and couples, worldwide.

Global infertility prevalence rates are difficult to determine, due to the presence of both male and female factors which complicate any estimate which may only address the woman and an outcome of a pregnancy diagnosis or live birth.

New infertility prevalence calculation

One in every four couples in developing countries had been found to be affected by infertility, when an evaluation of responses from women in Demographic and Health Surveys from 1990 was completed in collaboration with WHO in 2004.
The burden remains high. A WHO study, published at the end of 2012, has shown that the overall burden of infertility in women from 190 countries has remained similar in estimated levels and trends from 1990 to 2010.

Monitoring infertility prevalence in women

NUMERATOR: Number of women of reproductive age (15–49 years) at risk of becoming pregnant (not pregnant, sexually active, not using contraception and not lactating) who report trying unsuccessfully for a pregnancy for two years or more x100.

DENOMINATOR: The number of women of reproductive age (15–49 years) at risk of becoming pregnant (not pregnant, sexually active, not using contraception and not lactating) who report trying for a pregnancy for two years or more.

Monitoring infertility prevalence

As defined within the WHO Reproductive Health Indicators, Guidelines for their generation, interpretation and analysis for global monitoring, a formula has been determined for nations to monitor “infertility prevalence in women.” (see box to right). However, these data are not gathered routinely by nations nor are direct questions on infertility, using a consistent definition, gathered through existing national reproductive health care surveys. Prevalence data for men is unknown.

A WHO evaluation of Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data (2004), estimated that more than 186 million ever-married women of reproductive age in developing countries were maintaining a "child wish”, translating into one in every four couples.

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New trends in infertility prevalence

National, regional, and global trends in infertility prevalence since 1990: A systematic analysis of 277 health surveys