The latest in the world of fertility

Fertilty

From the reasons behind falling birth rates in developed countries, to new hope for premature babies with the creation of an artificial human womb, we take a look at some of the biggest fertility news stories around the world. Some of the things they can do these days is fascinating. It really is wow. I hope one day infertility is not heard of.

Are home DNA tests making it impossible for sperm donors to remain anonymous? 

In the UK, sperm donors were able to remain anonymous until a change in the law in 2005 meant their children would be able to contact them, if they wished, once they turned 18. But the rising popularity of home DNA tests and ancestry websites like 23andMe mean even fathers who donated sperm before 2005 can be traced – and prettily easily at that. The same is true for women who have donated their eggs, although these arrangements tend to be of the “open ID” variety in any case. 

Even if you’ve never used one of these kits or websites yourself, any relatives of yours who have used them means a genetic link back to you now exists online. Sperm donation clinics in the US are likewise being advised to be upfront with their donors that it’s now virtually impossible to guarantee anonymity.  

Africa’s first fertility show to take place in 2020

It’s estimated that up to one in six couples in Africa may battle with infertility. And while fertility treatment in South Africa ranks as some of the best in the world, many couples are still reluctant to talk about their issues or seek professional help. In many cultural groups in Africa, infertility is still viewed as a failing on the part of the parents, rather than a treatable medical condition. 

Fertility Show Africa – or FSA – taking place in Johannesburg in March of 2020, aims to start changing that. The event will offer a safe space for couples to learn about their options and chat with medical professionals and other experts, including doctors, clinicians, donor agencies and even nutritional and lifestyle advisers – all in a supportive and discreet environment. Several talks will also be given on topics ranging from IVF and other fertility treatments to the adoption process.  

Birth rate in England and Wales hits record low

In 2018, the US fertility rate hit an all-time low. In England and Wales, a similar trend saw the birth rate fall to the lowest it’s been since 2005 this year. The average woman in the two countries is now expected to have 1.7 children in her lifetime. This is a reflection both of a growing preference for smaller families, and the fact that women are choosing to spend more time developing their careers before deciding to become mothers. The only age group where the birth rate did not decline was in women aged 40 years and older.  

Another factor which is starting to play a significant role is concern over climate change, pollution and dwindling natural resources the world over. Increasingly, would-be parents are worried that by the time their children reach adulthood, the state of the planet will make life extremely difficult for them – not to mention their grandchildren. 

One user on Mumsnet, an online forum for parents in the UK, explained: 

I’m struggling with the idea of even having one child – with the many reports coming out recently detailing what the world will look like in 20, 30, 50 years if we don’t take serious drastic action right now. I don’t know if I want a child to grow up in that kind of world.

An artificial womb for humans is on the way 

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Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology have received a grant of €2.9m (£2.6m or $3.3m) to assist with the creation of an artificial womb for premature babies. The researchers are working on a prototype which will not only provide artificial respiration for infants, but would actually replicate conditions in the womb. 

Oxygen and nutrients would be delivered through an artificial placenta connected to the baby’s umbilical cord, and the infant would be surrounded with fluids, just as under normal biological conditions. This will hopefully eliminate some of the issues which occur when babies in incubators try to breathe through lungs or absorb nutrients through intestines that have not yet had a chance to develop fully.  

Currently, it’s estimated that a million babies a year die due to prematurity across the globe, and those that do survive often suffer from disabilities. The Horizon 2020 EU program has supplied the funding for the project, and it’s hoped that a working prototype of the artificial womb will be available in five years’ time. 

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