The world’s first-ever HIV positive sperm bank is accepting donations in New Zealand.
The project, called Sperm Positive, has launched with male donors who are living with HIV but have an undetectable viral load. This means they have received antiretroviral treatment and the level of HIV in their blood is so low it cannot be detected through blood tests.
Although they are technically still HIV-positive, they cannot transmit the virus to sexual partners or children via their sperm.
“An HIV positive sperm bank is perfectly safe,” Dr Mark Thomas, an infectious disease physician at the University of Auckland, explains on the project’s website.
”An HIV patient who is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load has no virus in their blood or genital secretions, including their sperm, and can’t pass the infection to anyone else.“
As Sperm Positive describes it: “They can give you their eyes, their hair, their cheeky laugh. But they can’t give you HIV.”
The online sperm bank will effectively work as a match-making service to pair up donors and prospective recipients. It’s worth highlighting that it will be made explicitly clear that the donors have HIV, but have an undetectable viral load thanks to ongoing treatment.
"I want people to know life doesn't stop after being diagnosed with HIV and that it is safe to have children if you're on treatment," Damien Rule-Neal, one of the first three donors to sign up to the scheme, told the New Zealand Herald.
The initiative was launched just ahead of World AIDS Day (December 1) by the New Zealand Aids Foundation, Positive Women Inc, and Body Positive, in hopes of breaking down much of the stigma that surrounds this misunderstood condition. They also wish to provide people living with HIV with the same opportunities and quality of life as those without the infection.
“I know a lot of men living with HIV who would make great fathers,” said Dr Thomas. “I think an HIV positive sperm bank is a great idea because it opens it up to everyone, including people with HIV, the joys of being a parent."
According to the World Health Organization, around 37.9 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2018, over two-thirds of whom live in Africa.
HIV (an abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus) attacks the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections and some types of cancer. There is no cure for HIV infection. However, as this project shows, effective antiretroviral drugs can control the virus and help to prevent transmission to other people, allowing many people living with the infection to live long and happy lives.