The world’s first HIV-positive sperm bank has been launched in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with the virus.
The sperm bank, called Sperm Positive, was initiated by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF), Positive Women Inc and Body Positive and has so far opened its doors to three male donors.
All three men are living with HIV but have a ‘consistently undetectable viral load’, meaning the amount of the virus in their blood is so low it cannot be detected or passed on to others – even through childbirth or unprotected sex.
Damien Rule-Neal is one of the men donating his sperm, after he was diagnosed with HIV in 1999. He has since been confirmed undetectable after starting treatment approximately 18 years ago.
He said there is still a lack of education throughout New Zealand about what an undetectable load meant, stating: ‘I have many friends who are also living with HIV who have gone on to have children.’
Damien has experienced stigma relating to his diagnosis and said, as per The Guardian:
Being able to help others on their journey is so rewarding, but I also want to show the world that life doesn’t stop post-diagnosis and help to remove the stigma.
The online sperm bank said it will make it clear to people looking for a donor they have HIV, but are on effective treatment and so cannot pass the virus on.
The initiative hopes to educate people in New Zealand about HIV transmission, as well as giving people diagnosed with the virus the opportunity to create life while raising awareness fertility services are available for them.
However, Sperm Positive has said it will not be operating as a fertility clinic; if a match is agreed by both parties, the sperm bank will put them in touch with local fertility clinics.
Dr Mark Thomas, an infectious diseases doctor, said he has seen changes in public opinion after working with those diagnosed with HIV for more than 30 years.
I’m glad to say that in this time there have been great changes in public understanding of HIV, but many people living with HIV still suffer from stigma.
Stigma can lead to inconsistent taking of medicines, and result in much less effective treatment of HIV, and risk of transmitting HIV.
Fear of stigma and discrimination can stop people at risk from getting tested, and those living with HIV from accessing treatment and support.
Dr Thomas’s comments are backed up by the research; according to Avert, an international HIV and AIDS charity, more than 50% of people report having discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV.
Most of the fear surrounding HIV stems from the epidemic in the 1980s, with that same stigma largely persisting today. This stigma makes people vulnerable to the virus as it limits access to HIV testing, treatment and other HIV services.
Hopefully this initiative will play an important role in breaking past this stigma once and for all.
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