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date: 17 June 2019

Infecundity and Infertility

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health. Please check back later for the full article.

Infertility remains a neglected area in sexual and reproductive health, yet its consequences are staggering. Infertility is estimated to impact about 15% (estimates range from 48 million to 180 million) of couples of reproductive age worldwide. It is associated with adverse physical and mental health outcomes, financial distress, severe social stigma, increased risk of domestic abuse, and marital instability. While men and women are equally likely to be infertile, women often bear the societal burden of infertility, particularly in societies where a woman’s identity and social value is closely tied to her ability to bear children. Despite these consequences, disparities in access to infertility treatment between low- and high-income populations persist, given the high cost and limited geographic availability of diagnostic services and assisted reproductive technologies. In addition, a significant proportion of infertility arises from preventable factors, such as smoking, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy-related infection or unsafe abortion, and environmental contaminants.

Accordingly, programs that address the equitable prevention and treatment of infertility are not only in keeping with a reproductive rights perspective, but can also improve public health. However, progress on infertility as a global concern in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights is stymied by challenges in understanding the global epidemiology of infertility, including its causes and determinants, barriers to accessing quality infertility care, and a lack of political will and attention to this issue. Tracking and measurement of infertility is highly complex, resulting in considerable ambiguity about its prevalence and stratification of reproduction globally. A renewed global focus on infertility epidemiology, risk factors, and access to and receipt of quality of care will support individuals in trying to reach their desired number and spacing of children and improve overall health and well-being.