The world's population of so-called test-tube babies is booming, with half of the estimated 5 million children born through assisted reproduction techniques born in the last six years alone, a new report says.
Techniques such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) – in which a woman's eggs are fertilized with sperm in a lab dish – have been catching on since the birth of the United Kingdom's Louise Brown in 1978.
But half the resulting babies, about 2.4 million, have been born just since 2007, according to the new report, presented Monday in Boston at the annual meeting of the International Federation of Fertility Societies and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Driving the acceleration: increasing access in developing countries – especially China – and increasing insurance coverage in many nations, says David Adamson, a Northern California fertility specialist who led efforts to compile the data.
The report comes with a big caveat: The estimate of 5 million includes about 1 million babies thought to have been born in China over the past several years – but "the problem is we have not been able to get data from China," Adamson says. So the estimate, he says, is based on incomplete numbers culled from government websites and elsewhere.
The remaining numbers are based on official reports from 74 countries. Those reports also have holes – including some missing years, Adamson says – but they suggest 3.3 million to 4.1 million babies have been born through assisted techniques. The techniques counted include basic IVF but also egg donation, surrogacy and egg freezing. Not included: artificial insemination or the use of fertility drugs without IVF.
According to the official reports, assisted reproduction resulted in:
• 89,000 to 95,000 births by 1990
• 887,000 to 999,000 births by 2000
• 2.2 to 2.4 million births by 2007
• An additional 1.2 to 1.7 million births since 2007 which, combined with at least 900,000 births from China, could bring the total to 5 million.
About 1% of babies born in USA each year, or about 60,000, are now conceived through assisted reproductive techniques, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The yearly number in China could be as high as 200,000 Adamson says, making it, by far, the world leader.
"Cost is the biggest barrier," he says to further spread of the techniques around the world.
A single attempt at IVF can cost $12,000 to $17,000, according to the National Institutes of Health.
While IVF was once controversial from an ethical point of view, just 12% of people in the USA now consider it morally wrong, according to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center. Most concerns about IVF today center on costs of repeated treatments and the added risks that occur when IVF results in twins, triplets or other multiple pregnancies. Studies also suggest a slightly increased risk of birth defects.