MALAYSIA - Results from a recent study of 1,000 women across 10 Asian countries, including Malaysia, has revealed critical knowledge gaps about fertility, the key causes of infertility, and fertility treatment options.
Called Starting Families Asia, the study was aimed at gathering insights into contemporary decision-making around conceiving a child, and the barriers to seeking medical help in instances where infertility exists.
All the participants were women attempting to conceive.
Commenting on the findings of the study, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology reproductive specialist Prof Zainul Rashid Mohd Razi said:
"The results from Starting Families Asia could be indicative of the potential barriers to the help that women and couples should be seeking and receiving when planning to start a family, especially for those facing difficulty in conceiving.
"The study results also highlight that more public education and awareness on the impact of age and medical problems on fertility, as well as the treatment options available to patients who may be suffering from infertility, is vital."
The study revealed that less than half of the women surveyed across the region understand that a couple is classified as infertile if they fail to conceive after one year of trying (43 per cent); that a woman in her forties has a lower chance of falling pregnant than a woman in her thirties (36 per cent); and that a healthy lifestyle does not necessarily guarantee fertility (32 per cent).
This could mean that many women are not seeking the help or treatment that could improve their chances of conceiving - in particular, women above the age of 35.
Many women believe that fate plays a part in fertility.
In Malaysia, 71 per cent of women believe that infertility is "God's will", and 42 per cent attribute it to "bad luck".
There also seems to be a widespread lack of knowledge about male fertility issues - 51 per cent of women do not know that a man may be infertile even if he can achieve an erection, and 49 per cent do not realise that a man may be infertile even though he produces sperm.
While general awareness about fertility treatment options is relatively high across the region, around 30 per cent of the women surveyed are still not likely to proactively seek professional help, even if they suspect they have fertility troubles.
In Malaysia, 52 per cent of the women surveyed, who had been trying to conceive for more than six months, were unaware of where their nearest fertility centre was located.
The single greatest barrier to seeking help in Malaysia is the perceived high cost associated with fertility treatment - this perception is consistent across the countries surveyed.
For women who do seek professional help, seeking advice from healthcare professionals and performing diagnostic tests are common forms of obtaining treatment.
Alternative or complementary therapies are also common options for those who have heard of them.
"Asian countries have among the lowest fertility rates in the world, and the declining birth rates are a cause for concern.
"Merck Serono commissioned the Starting Families Asia study to better understand Asian women's decision-making considerations around having a baby.
"It is our hope that insights from this study, which highlights critical fertility knowledge gaps that need to be addressed, will assist healthcare professionals and policy makers in addressing this acute challenge," said Merck Serono Malaysia managing director Alex Chua.
The study was commissioned by Merck Serono, a division of Merck, Darmstadt, Germany, in collaboration with the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the National University Hospital Women's Centre in Singapore.
It was modelled on a similar study undertaken by Merck Serono in collaboration with Cardiff University in 2009 to 2010.
The largest study of its kind, Starting Families Asia has been endorsed by the Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproduction (Aspire).