News / Africa

Global Infertility Rates Generally Hold Steady

The World Health Organization, WHO
The World Health Organization, WHO


Joe DeCapua
The World Health Organization says infertility rates around the world have remained relatively stable since 1990. Almost 50 million couples worldwide were unable to have a child after five years of trying. However, one region was a big exception. The WHO says infertility rates have declined in sub-Saharan Africa.

(To listen to De Capua report click on link below)

“This study is measuring infertility rather than fertility itself. And the reason that we set out to try to determine what infertility levels were is because we found that it’s a bit of a neglected area of reproductive health, said WHO statistician Gretchen Stevens, who led the study on infertility rates.

It analyzed hundreds of household surveys in 190 countries from 1990 to 2010. She says it took a different approach than previous research.

“In general, people have worried quite a bit about getting people access to contraceptives so that they could prevent unwanted pregnancies. But they haven’t worried as much about when couples are trying to become pregnant and aren’t able to do so. This is actually a first study that looks at trends in infertility worldwide and in different countries. And we thought that this might be able to raise the profile of the condition,” she said.

The results were published in PLOS Medicine, an open access medical journal. The study measured primary infertility – the inability of young women to have their first live birth – and secondary infertility – the inability the have another baby.

“For the most part,” she said, “[in] most regions of the world there wasn’t very much change in infertility levels over time. But the big exception was actually sub-Saharan Africa, where we found there was a big decline in infertility levels. So primary infertility went from 2.7 percent of women in reproductive age in 1990 to 1.9 percent in 2010. And secondary infertility declined from 13.5 percent in 1990 to 11.6 percent in 2010.”

The study did not look into why infertility rates dropped in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We have some ideas, but we don’t have any proof. So some studies have shown that in sub-Saharan Africa one of the main causes of infertility is the effects from sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. One of our hypotheses is that perhaps some of the changes in behavior  that have come about from the response to the HIV epidemic might have actually gone towards reducing infertility rates,” she said.

Such behavior change would include greater condom use and other safe sex practices. The WHO researcher says improved obstetric care may also be a factor. That’s because maternal mortality rates have fallen in sub-Saharan Africa. To be sure, however, Stevens said infertility studies would have to be conducted.

“Sometimes infertility is caused by female factors. Sometimes it’s caused by male factors and sometimes both. And I think that culturally in many regions of sub-Saharan Africa there’s been a tendency to blame the woman. But that shouldn’t be the starting point,” she said.

Stevens added that she was surprised that the overall findings showed global infertility rates remained very stable. That’s because in higher income countries there’s been concern about environmental factors affecting sperm quality and about a growing number of older women having children. But the study found no evidence to support those factors affecting infertility rates.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Press Freedom

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs