The British Fertility Society (BFS) recently published its report on sperm donation services in the UK (1), in which various suggestions were put forward for overcoming the current shortfall of sperm donors. These included increasing the number of families to be treated per donor and changing thresholds for acceptance of donors. The BFS also proposed a concept of hub and spoke services for sperm donors which, ultimately, may well be the way forward to overcome the current problems. In the meantime, however, clinics are still faced with increasing lists of patients awaiting treatment with donor sperm.
When the regulations regarding anonymity changed, donor sperm did become more difficult to obtain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that fewer clinics now recruit donors compared to 15-20 years ago. Also, it suggests that some of these clinics stopped recruiting donors on the assumption that fewer men were willing to become sperm donors because they would not want to be identified in the future, and that the process would therefore be too difficult and too expensive. Maybe this assumption was wrong. Perhaps there are plenty of men out there willing to be donors and we just have to make sure we recruit them
At a time when donor sperm was becoming increasingly difficult to source, our unit was receiving phone calls from men unable to find a local clinic at which to donate sperm. We soon reached the conclusion that if we were to continue to offer donor sperm treatments to our patients then we would have to take on the responsibility and recruit these men to be donors of our own.
Over just a few months, with a great deal of help and advice from staff at another recruiting clinic, we were able to establish our own sperm donor program. This sharing of information and experience was a key factor in us being able to set up our successful program in a relatively short space of time, and this level of altruism is as essential for the reproductive health workers as it is for the donors we hope to recruit.
Advertising has traditionally been the greatest expense in recruiting donors and perhaps this cost acts as a deterrent to many clinics. We have never paid for advertising for donors, but we follow up all unsolicited contact from men interested in donation. Many of these men respond to articles in the news (an example is that in two weeks we had 10 enquiries from men following the media publicity sparked by the BFS publication) and they easily locate us through the excellent NGDT (National Gamete Donation Trust) website (2). Because we now have the necessary protocols in place we are able to capitalise on this and we do not have to turn these men away. If recruitment rates remain at the current steady levels then we project that within two years we will no longer have a waiting list for patients in our clinic requiring donor sperm.
We cannot simply assume that there are now fewer men in the population that are prepared to be sperm donors. A national approach of recruitment, co-ordination and deployment of donor sperm may well be the future solution to the current problems of donor sperm supply. In the meantime, instead of compromising on donor sperm quality or accepting that an increase in the number of families per donor is acceptable, we should take on the responsibility of recruiting sperm donors to treat the patients on our own waiting lists before their fertility is beyond our help.
Sources and References
1) British Fertility Society (2008) Working party on sperm donation services in the UK. Human Fertility 11:147-58.