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China Daily Website

Sperm banks reach out for donors amid supply shortage

Updated: 2012-09-19 22:00
( Xinhua)

WUHAN - Sperm banks in several Chinese cities are struggling with a shortage of sperm, as legal hurdles and cultural perceptions have reduced donor numbers.

Medical experts said a growing number of infertile couples has resulted in excess demand for sperm at official donation facilities.

"A couple applying in our province has to wait about a year," said Xia Wei, vice director of the Human Sperm Bank of central China's Hubei Province.

The bank's stores are currently only half-full, Xia said, adding that similar shortages have been reported by sperm banks across the country.

Authorities in some places have increased compensation for donors to solicit more eligible men. In south China's Guangdong Province, a successful donation can net the donor 5,000 yuan ($788.6), up from the previous 2,000 yuan.

Sperm banks have also tried to net more donors via media and microblogs. Luo Wenzhi, head of Guangdong's family planning commission, appeared on a local radio program to encourage healthy college students and office workers to donate.

"Sperm donation is healthy. It won't hurt you nor kill you," Luo said, responding to health concerns stirred by an online report claiming that a doctoral student died after donating sperm in Wuhan, capital of Hubei.

Insatiable demand

Medical experts have described the dearth of donors as an urgent problem, as a growing number of Chinese couples are looking to artificial insemination to help them realize their dream of having a child.

"About 15 percent of Chinese couples cannot conceive. We suspect the problem is linked to unhealthy lifestyles and pollution," said Zheng Xinming, vice head of the Hubei Medical Association.

But the rising demand has yet to be met, as many Chinese men believe that allowing an unknown woman to conceive a child using their sperm defies traditional values regarding child-raising and family responsibility.

"I can't bear the thought that I might someday meet my offspring, who I wouldn't even know," said a student surnamed Xiong at the Wuhan University of Technology.

Experts and officials said the problem can be attributed to a lack of education regarding sperm donation. They said many potential donors feel embarrassed because of their lack of knowledge on the subject.

Medical experts are also campaigning to ease strict criteria that are believed to have prevented many eligible men from donating.

The current policy limits donors to men between the ages of 22 and 45, and their health records and sperm quality must meet strict requirements before they can be used for artificial insemination.

Xia said that among 1,672 men who applied to donate at the Hubei facility last year, only 233 were allowed to do so.

"We suggest the government moderate the age limit to allow more college students to participate, as they already make up the backbone of our donations," Xia said.

Tougher measures are also needed to crack down on the underground sperm market, which has profited from the scarcity of donor sperm, experts said.

The unregulated market includes websites that allow customers and donors to match up with each other, as well as "donations" provided through actual intercourse. The market's cheaper costs and promise of free sex for donors has appealed to some, said Long Wen, a fertility doctor at the Wuhan People's Hospital.

"Such platforms don't demand health checks, nor do they verify the quality of the sperm, which could lead to the transmission of venereal disease or ethical problems," Long said.