June is World Infertility Awareness Month, a time dedicated to heightening awareness about infertility.
Infertility is a medical condition often not widely spoken about yet something that affects a surprisingly large number of couples around the world.
“Infertility is when you cannot get or stay pregnant after trying for at least a year and you are under the age of 35, or if you are over the age of 35 and are unable to get or stay pregnant for six months,” said Dr Sulaiman Heylen, president of the Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy (Sasreg).
Here are three myths around infertility:
Myth: Infertility is purely a women’s problem
Fact: Infertility can affect men and women alike. About 20-30% of infertility cases are explained by physiological causes in men.
Infertility can affect men of all ages. However, in their mid- to late 40s, men experience changes in their sperm that can cause issues with fertility and chromosomal/ developmental problems with offspring.
Myth: Healthy young adults don’t have to worry about infertility
Fact: The current prevalence of infertility lasting for at least 12 months is estimated to affect between 8 to 12% worldwide of women aged 20 to 44, which indicates that infertility can affect one at any age.
Myth: Deciding to have a baby when you are much older, won’t affect your fertility
Fact: A woman’s age is one of the most important factors affecting whether she can conceive and give birth to a healthy child.
COVID-19 a new stumbling block
In a statement, Dr Heylen recently said that in the past few years, the number of couples seeking infertility treatment has dramatically increased due to factors such as postponement of childbearing in women, and lifestyle factors such as stress, smoking, and body weight.
“However, an additional recent stumbling block has been the fear of contracting COVID-19 which has had an impact on delaying people’s fertility journeys.”
She added that for those already undergoing fertility treatment, when COVID-19 hit, there was a suspension of treatment worldwide and the subsequent delay of fertility treatments has resulted in much psychological distress for many patients.
Don’t let pandemic ‘ruin fertility plans’
“The month of June, therefore, aims to highlight why it’s so important not to let the pandemic ruin one’s fertility plans.
“Delaying fertility treatment due to fear of COVID-19 can further reduce your chances of successful treatment outcomes, with studies showing a reduction in live birth rates in patients who have postponed treatment.”
Safety first at ART clinics
According to Heylen, it is very important to stress that assisted reproductive technology (ART) clinics are safe and have taken precautions to ensure the health and safety of patients, and staff, while they await the availability of the vaccines.
“There is minimal risk of exposure to the virus at these clinics and there is therefore no need to wait for a vaccine to reach out to receive fertility treatment.”
COVID-19 vaccine and fertility
Heylen also notes that there has been much misinformation circulating online about the potential negative impact the COVID-19 vaccine might have on fertility, which has been causing patients to delay treatment while deliberating whether to have the COVID-19 vaccine or not.
“With COVID-19 vaccines now available globally, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has stated that there is “absolutely no evidence” that these vaccines can affect the fertility of women or men.”
“Patients undergoing fertility treatment should be encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to all South Africans,” she said.