SHANGHAI: The door of hope for many infertile couples in Shanghai has been temporarily shut - and won't reopen until 2009.
Bookings for in-vitro fertilization, or IVF - a common method of artificial insemination - are full, according to Renji Hospital-affiliated Shanghai Sperm Bank, the city's only such facility.
More than 500 couples have registered for treatment at the facility but there is just not enough donated sperm for newcomers.
"We won't accept new patients until 2009 as we don't have sufficient supply of high-quality sperm to meet demand," said an employee surnamed Ye at Renji Hospital.
A major reason for the short supply is the sperm bank's tight screening standards. As a result, only 700 of the 5,000 volunteers who came forward to donate sperm since the sperm bank was established in 2003 have passed the screening process, which involves 18 medical tests. Each qualified donor has to visit the sperm bank 10 times to complete the process.
"Over 90 percent of the volunteers are university students," Li Zheng, director of the sperm bank, said.
"We have particularly strict standards for sperm donation. For instance, the qualifying sperm count is set at 60 million/ml, which is higher than the average count of 40 million/ml," Li said.
The donor must, of course, be healthy and free from any form of infectious disease at the time of donation.
"Our experience showed that about 10 percent of the volunteers had some diseases, including abnormal incretion or inflammation, and 1 to 2 percent of them were found with more serious health problems," said Li.
Li said the bad quality of the sperm is mainly due to unhealthy lifestyles and emotional stress.
"People now are eating too much and exercising less, and they have lots of bad habits, such as smoking, drinking and staying up late."
The bank has a reserve of around 10,000 doses, and two doses are needed for each therapy. A small part of the doses are sent to other hospitals in neighboring cities.
About 10 percent of the city's 3 million couples of childbearing age are infertile, 30 to 50 percent due to male infertility, Li said. About 10 percent of those infertile couples will need donated sperm in IVF treatment.