Data presented at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) has shown that more than three million babies have been born using IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies (ART) since the world's first IVF baby was born in 1978.
Data were first collected on the number of ART births worldwide in 1989 - and in that year only about 30,000 babies were born following ART. Two years ago, that figure had risen to 200,000 babies in a year. This year's data, from the International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART), includes reports from 52 countries, and covers almost 600,000 IVF cycles and 122,000 newborn babies. 'The ICMART report covers two-thirds of the world's ART activity, so the total number of ART cycles in the world can be estimated at one million a year, and the number of babies produced at around 200,000 a year', said ICMART member Dr Jacques de Mouzon. As yet, the data does not include information on most African nations or many Asian countries.
The data also showed that huge variation exists in the availability of ART treatments - and their success rates - across the countries represented. Availability was found to be at its highest in Israel, which gave 3,260 cycles per million population, followed by Denmark, at 2,031 cycles per million. Denmark also had the greatest proportion of ART births out of all births, at 3.9 per cent. In Latin American countries there tended to be fewer than 100 cycles per million population provided, and ART births represent less than 0.1 per cent of all births.
In terms of where most ART takes place, the greatest number of cycles was recorded in Europe, where 56 per cent of all ART treatment cycles were initiated. Almost half of all the cycles reported in the world took place in just four countries - the USA, Germany, France and the UK. The world data also showed a general move toward single embryo transfer (SET), leading to a decline in multiple pregnancies and births.
ART figures for Europe were also presented to the conference. Professor Anders Nyboe Andersen, of the Rigshospitalet at Copenhagen University in Denmark and co-ordinator of the European IVF monitoring programme, spoke of data collected for 2003 on ARTs in 28 countries - four more countries than provided data for 2002. In 2003, there were 357,884 cycles provided across Europe, a 10 per cent increase on 2002. However, the statistics also showed that people in the UK are among the least likely in Europe to get the treatment they need - the UK came twelfth out of the 15 European countries that provided data for 2003, with only Macedonia, Croatia and Austria performing fewer cycles of fertility treatment per head of population.
Last year it was reported that there was a decline in the number of twin births following the use of ARTs, and a fall from 3.6 per cent to 1.3 per cent of triplet births - this is a trend that appears to be continuing, with SET being favoured in many countries. 'The Nordic countries and Belgium lead the way in this', said Andersen. By way of illustration, he added that 'in Sweden today there is 70 per cent elective SET, which has resulted in a decline in twin birth rates to five per cent, which is sensational'.
Professor Karl Nygren, chair of ESHRE's European IVF Monitoring Programme and the ICMART Committee, said that the two reports show an increased use of IVF and other ARTs around the world, despite there still being inequalities in provision. He added that 'ART is increasingly being used in India and China and we look forward to them contributing data in the future'.