Does WHO Consider Infertility as Disability?

An image with claims that the  World Health Organization classifies people who can’t find sexual partners for purposes of childbearing as having a disability has been circulating. This image of a newspaper cutting was posted on Reddit on July 22, 2021 and on a tweet here.

We ran a background check to establish when these claims first appeared on the internet and its authenticity. 

Background

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals globally are infertile. Availability and access to quality services to address infertility still remains a challenge, according to the WHO report.

“Diagnosis and treatment of infertility is often not prioritized in national population and development policies and reproductive health strategies and are rarely covered through public health financing,” the report states.

Verification

Results from a search using the keywords; ‘Sex partner disability WHOshow that discussions around these claims appeared on the internet in 2019 in an article by India Today. The article claimed that WHO  was set to classify a person as having a disability in cases where they are unable to find a suitable sexual partner or get pregnant after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex. It further adds that this new rule would apparently cover gay and heterosexual couples, who will be given the same priority as any couple seeking IVF because of fertility problems. In a “disability alert”, a similar article was published by The Star on June 9, 2019.

During the development of this fact-check, Piga Firimbi found that these discussions originally began circulating in 2016 when an article published by The Telegraph claimed that the WHO was planning to update its definition of infertility. This, according to The Telegraph, would give single men and women the ability to have a family under these definitions.

In this WHO report from February 5, 2020, fertility is defined 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. It further states that it is developing guidelines on the diagnosis and management of infertility. These guidelines will not revise the definition of infertility. 

From this, WHO’s classification of infertility as a disease has been twisted to suit a classification of a disability.  Which is , impairment in a person’s body structure or function or, mental functioning, activity limitation such as difficulty seeing, hearing, walking or problem-solving. 

The AFP Fact Check previously looked into this claim. Speaking to AFP in an email, Dr. Rudi  Eggers, WHO’s representative in Kenya, said, “although infertility is an impairment of biological function, WHO does not classify infertility as a disability, since disability is neither simply a biological nor a social phenomenon.” 

Verdict

NO, the World Health Organization does not classify the inability of getting a sexual partner as a disability.

This story was produced by Africa Uncensored in partnership with Code for Africa with support from Deutsche Welle Akademie.

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Nyakerario Omari

Nyakerario J. Omari is a Kenyan writer and journalist with a passion for in-depth stories told through documentaries. She has an interest in reporting matters concerning health, crime and human rights.