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Big bucks for sperm - But only a handful of men would qualify for US$1,500 per month offer if the programme is introduced

Published:Sunday | January 25, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Nadine Wilson-Harris, Staff Reporter

With an increasing number of women looking to freeze their eggs for future use, the Hugh Wynter Fertility Management Unit (HWFMU) is considering purchasing sperm from Jamaican men for assisted conception; however, not everyone will qualify.

The fertility clinic now purchases sperm from the Cryobank in California for its patients and, according to head of the unit, Professor Joseph Frederick, it also receives sperm from family members of couples who are experiencing challenges having a baby.

"We have to buy the sperm from overseas and they come down frozen, so if we could get fresh sperm down here, that would be very good," Frederick told The Sunday Gleaner.

"Particularly when we have a problem with a couple where a man's sperm is very bad or he doesn't have any sperm at all, we have to order," added Frederick.

As is the case for sperm donations at the Cryobank, Frederick said strict guidelines will be applied to the process of receiving sperm from Jamaican men. According to the international sperm bank's website, the majority of their donors are recruited from elite universities such as Harvard and Stanford, or are established professionals in various fields such as law, medicine and business.

Qualified candidates would also need to be between the ages of 19 and 39 years old, must be enrolled at a university or have a degree, must be over five feet nine inches tall, and must be in good health.

"Our stringent donor qualification process (including genetic and infectious disease screening) allows less than one per cent of all applicants to make it into our programme," the bank said.

Apart from helping couples to fulfil the dream of starting a family, sperm donors are also paid US$1,500 per month for donating up to three times per week to the bank. Those donors whose family history indicates that their offspring might be at an increased risk for birth defects or genetic conditions are disqualified.

Frederick noted that couples are given the opportunity to select the profile of their sperm donor when they visit the HWFMU.

"They would tell you that they don't want somebody who is too far removed from their physical attributes in terms of the colour of their skin, height, and then of course all of them say that they want somebody who is educated. Sometimes they want so much that you think they want superman," the noted obstetrician/gynaecologist chuckled good-naturedly.

Frederick explained that there are several reasons why Jamaican men are not coming forward to voluntarily donate their sperms unless they are helping out a family member. The primary concern, he believes, for most men is the fact that they would have to do an HIV test twice prior to sperm donation.

"You find that because of that, a lot of men, unless they have a particular commitment, they are not just going to come off the road and give sperm and go through all that trouble," he said.

"Masturbation in our culture is not an easy thing for most men to come and do just like that. So unless you have a particular interest, you don't tend to come," he added.

INCREASED NEED

But there is an increased need for donor sperm, given the positive response the unit has been getting for its egg-freezing initiative. This programme allows young women to come forward and freeze their eggs for future use, so they can hold off on having children until they have accomplished their other goals.

"The women are kind of buying into it a lot more, in that they say to themselves that if I didn't get married, say, in my 30s or 20s, and I happen to get married later on, or I have my achievements later on, I can have eggs from when I was much younger stored," he said.

"Those would produce better-quality babies too, because the younger you are is the better the quality of your eggs," explained Frederick.

Under the unit's egg-sharing programme, these women can donate some of their eggs to older couples, who would in turn pay for part of the younger woman's treatment when she is ready to have her baby.

The HWFMU, which underwent a massive upgrade in 2013 as part of Jamaica's thrust towards health tourism, has also been attracting a lot of clients from other Caribbean countries and within the diaspora.

"I get calls daily from overseas from Jamaicans wanting to come down," said Frederick, who explained that HWFMU prices are highly subsidised. Sunday Gleaner checks show that the average cost for one cycle of In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is US$12,000 internationally, whereas storage fees for eggs can go up to US$600 annually. At the HWFMU a cycle of IVF treatment would cost a couple US$7,000, while a young lady can expect to pay US$200 a year to store her eggs.

Frederick could not give a timeline for the purchase of donor sperms locally, as he said the staff is still trying to adapt to the upgraded facility and they would need to buy more banks to store the sperms. He believes more consideration will also need to be given.

"In life you have to move slowly. In a small population like ours, you don't really want to overexpose yourself too quickly. I think people are still being sensitised to the whole concept of assisted conception."