Challenging stigma

World’s first sperm bank open for HIV-positive donors

Damien Rule-Neal is one of the first HIV positive men to donate to the new sperm bank
Damien Rule-Neal is one of the first HIV-positive men to donate to the new sperm bank (Photo: Supplied)

The world’s first sperm bank for HIV-positive donors has opened in New Zealand. The initiative was launched in conjunction with New Zealand Aids Foundation, Positive Women Inc and Body Positive.

Besides offering sperm for fertility treatment, the organizations, launching the initiative ahead of World AIDS Day yesterday (December, 1), also want to educate people about HIV treatment and challenge stigma.

Related: 28% of millennials say they wouldn’t hug or be friends with someone who is HIV-positive

When HIV positive people achieve a consistently undetectable viral load on HIV medication, they cannot pass on the virus through sex or childbirth.

The sperm bank has so far got three donors. One of them, Damien Rule-Neal, spoke to Radio New Zealand. He was diagnosed in 1999 at the age of 26 and been on treatment for the past 18 years. He became undetectable shortly after starting treatment.

He says that despite this he has experienced tremendous stigma around the virus, which included being “bullied” out of one job.

Already a father to two children, he said: “I have many friends who are also living with HIV who’ve gone on to have children.

“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 sperm bank, simply called Sperm Positive, will make it clear to anyone seeking a donor that all of its donors are HIV positive but cannot pass on the virus.

It will not act as a fertility clinic itself, but anyone interested in using the sperm will be put in touch with an Auckland-based fertility clinic

Mark Fisher, a spokesperson for Body Positive, told Stuff, that outdated stigma needs addressing

“That whole fear is still there based on the 1980s where people are afraid to put their children or their partner at risk of HIV,” Fisher said.

“People are still back in the days of where they can’t eat food prepared by someone with HIV.”

Recently, Queerty published an opinion piece on what you may miss out on if you refuse to date people who have HIV. Although science backs up the lack of risk when someone is undetectable, Donald Trump Jnr was among those to slam the article – demonstrating that outdated views persist.

Related: Donald Trump Jr. slams Queerty for fighting HIV stigma

Dr Mark Thomas, an infectious diseases doctor and Auckland University associate professor, welcomed the new sperm bank. He says the corrosive effects of stigma cannot be understated.

“Many people living with HIV still suffer from stigma,” he told The Guardian.

“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.”