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World Health Organization Defines Infertility as a Disease
a blog by Pamela Tsigdinos, Feb. 2, 2010
Barren. Unfruitful. Infertile.
These words offers up many shades of gray, don’t they? They certainly did for me, in particular, "infertile." I still remember the first time I saw the term in a brochure in an OB-Gyn office. I was much more naïve and younger then. My brain didn’t know how to process it -- going from “what’s that?” to “oh, not me!”
In time, I became embarrassed and shamed by the word. It wasn’t discussed openly. It was whispered about. Accordingly, I felt guilty about it. Condemned by it.
Society seemed most comfortable keeping the word shrouded in stigma. Until one day -- that being November 30, 2009 -- it was brought out of the closet. Held up under a different light and with the stroke of a pen it moved from a shadowy term with judgment hanging in the balance to an altogether new category:
Infertility = Disease
Yes, it was on November 30 -- just a few short months ago -- when the World Health Organization stepped forward to declare for the very first time that infertility is a disease.
This development didn’t make the newspapers or prime time. It was only in doing some research that I tripped over a press release that apparently got no press attention at all.
Here’s the press release headline, and an excerpt:
- WHO Releases Glossary of Terminology in Assisted Reproduction, Defines Infertility as a Disease
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies released a new international glossary of ART terminology. Appearing simultaneously in the journals Fertility and Sterility and Human Reproduction, the glossary is an important step towards developing common nomenclature and understanding in assisted reproduction.
Significantly the glossary defines infertility itself as “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”
The WHO's recognition of infertility as a disease represents a significant milestone for the condition.
As strange as it sounds, my heart raced a bit as I read the announcement. That thing that managed to turn my life upside down wasn’t some self-inflicted, shadowly illegitimate thing. It is a bona fide DISEASE!
William Gibbons, MD, President of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) took the words right out of my mouth with this statement:
- “For too long those suffering from infertility have had their condition slighted or even ignored. Insurance companies don’t pay to treat it, governments don’t put adequate resources to study it and consequently patients suffer. We hope that this international recognition that infertility is, in fact, a disease will allow it to be treated like other diseases.”
With such a proclamation, we move that much closer to a new generation of women and men getting respect and help to fight a disease that has too long been overlooked and that now affects, according to a joint WHO-DHS Comparative Report in 2004 -- based on data evaluated up to mid- 2002 -- one in four married women of reproductive age in most developing countries.
I have all new respect for semantics.
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