Women importing sperm
London - A drastic lack of sperm donors in Britain means women wanting babies are resorting to importing semen from abroad or using do-it-yourself insemination kits bought on the internet, fertility experts said on Friday.
A change in the law in 2005 which removed sperm donors' right to anonymity has led to a sharp fall in the number of donations and a nationwide shortage, according to research by Allan Pacey of Sheffield University's Medical School.
"We are really in a terrible position in the UK," Pacey wrote in a study in the Obstetrician and Gynaecologist journal.
In some clinics waiting times can be at least a year for the first treatment, experts say, and if that fails there are further delays before another round of treatment can be offered.
Data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show a steady decline in the number of patients in Britain receiving treatment with donor sperm, falling from almost 9 000 in 1992 to just over 2 000 in 2007.
Pacey said the fall was partly due to patients opting for other treatments like intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection, which involves injecting a single sperm directly into an egg.
But he said it was also due to a "a serious shortfall in the number of sperm donors available in UK clinics".
Pacey said he had heard reports of long waiting lists and the shortage of sperm forcing some fertility services to close.
"More worryingly, however, is anecdotal evidence that women patients are travelling to clinics overseas to seek treatment," Pacey wrote. "There have also been reports of women purchasing fresh sperm online for DIY (do-it-yourself) insemination."
Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services in central England, said the study reflected exactly the problems experienced by patients and staff at her clinic.
"It's definitely what we have been finding," she told Reuters in a telephone interview. "And the shortage of donors has meant a very drastic reduction in the quality of treatment we can offer, not only in terms of increased waiting time, but also in the reduction of choice about donor characteristics."
HFEA chief Lisa Jardine said last July the authority may reconsider the British ban on payments for sperm and egg donors in an effort to encourage more people to come forward as donors and to stop couples travelling abroad for treatment.