Education campaign targets national policy-makers

Satu Rautakallio-Hokkanen, chair of Fertility Europe, Cristine Magli, chair of ESHRE. Joyce Harper and Zeynep Gurtin from the Fertility Education Initiative, presenting the poster at the European Parliament.

Published 02 April 2020

ESHRE is backing a global campaign to increase awareness among policy-makers of the need for fertility education in response to declining birth rates.

ESHRE is backing a global campaign to increase awareness among policy-makers of the need for fertility education in response to declining birth rates.

Led by Professor Joyce Harper from the Institute for Women's Health, University College London, co-founder of the UK Fertility Education Initiative (FEI) this global project involves a team of experts - including chair of ESHRE Cristina Magli and representatives from Fertility Europe. Their aim is to persuade every country to set up a government-sponsored fertility education website, and for schools to provide teaching on the challenges of being able to start a family.

Only six countries currently have active fertility education websites: the UK, Australia, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and Canada (still to be completed).

To spread their message widely, the group of fertility education experts have launched a poster campaign encouraging people to look after their reproductive health, and which gives them the knowledge to make informed decisions about fertility, both now and in the future.

The poster lists nine key facts about fertility, including the decline in sperm quality with age, the impact of sexually transmitted infections and the limited success of IVF, especially for women over the age of 35.

Harper says immediate action is necessary given the global decrease in fertility rates. These are falling dramatically in many countries, with Europe the continent now having the lowest total fertility rate. The number of children born per woman is currently put at 1.6 in the EU overall and in some European countries it is even lower - Portugal’s rate of 1.31 is the lowest in the EU.

A major problem many women face is finding a partner ready to become a parent. According to evidence presented at ESHRE’s 2018 annual meeting by Professor Marcia Inhorn from Yale University, women are more likely to freeze their eggs because of a lack of a stable partner, rather than for any career planning.

Speaking to Focus on Reproduction, Professor Harper said: 'Fertility education is urgently needed globally. In every country, people are delaying having a family for a variety of reasons – and IVF treatment cannot work miracles. If men and women want children, they must not leave it too late. We want to ensure that everyone who wants children can have children. This will only be achieved if they have access to fertility education, so people are fully informed and are in a position to start their families when the time is right. We believe that fertility education should be provided in schools and beyond, and that every country should have a fertility education campaign.'

The campaign for universal education is part of a call to action for politicians initiated last year by Fertility Europe, an umbrella organisation representing infertility patient associations and ESHRE’s official patient partner. Policy-makers were urged to pledge their support for equal access to fertility treatment and to education in the EU.

'We’re concerned about population decline as well as the increase in people facing infertility. We need proper fertility education for teenagers and we need it now,' said Satu Rautakallio-Hokkanen, chair of Fertility Europe.

Now accessible on the ESHRE website, the poster was officially launched in the EU Parliament last November during European Fertility Week, where Harper spoke about the urgent need for education in fertility. It has subsequently been translated by Fertility Europe into more than 35 languages.

To take the campaign further, Joyce Harper will be co-hosting meeting with Fertility Europe at ESHRE’s annual meeting in Copenhagen, which anyone interested in the issue is invited to attend, especially those from countries without a fertility education programme.

To increase participation and promote the fertility education message, Harper and her team are urging people to use the poster as a tool to raise awareness. Their suggestions include taking a photo with the poster with colleagues and friends, then sharing the image using hashtag #fertilityed and tags @ProfJoyceHarper and @eshre and @FertiltyEurope.

* More information is available from joyce.harper@ucl.ac.uk

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