Tuesday 01 December 2020
Two pregnancies have been announced as the result of sperm donated by men living with HIV, a year after the launch of the world’s first HIV positive sperm bank in New Zealand last year.
The first baby is expected to be born in February next year with the second in April, and the donors – and expectant mothers – are ecstatic.
Initiated by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, Positive Women Inc. and Body Positive, the sperm bank, Sperm Positive, has helped combat HIV stigma by reinforcing the message that people living with HIV, who are on effective treatment, cannot pass on the virus to sexual partners or through conception. This is known as Undetectable = Untransmittable, and is backed up by several international studies.
One of the donors, Matt*, a 32-year-old living in Central Auckland, says hearing about the sperm bank made him realise he could fulfil a long-held dream.
“Learning I was HIV positive seven years ago was hard. I was shocked, but with support and help I have learned so much more about what a manageable condition HIV is today.”
He said he never seriously thought it would be possible to become a father and is really proud of having fulfilled the parenthood dreams of two wonderful people.
So much so that Matt and his partner are now hoping to find a surrogate so they can have a child of their own. “I feel blessed to be given the opportunity to have children carrying my blood. Being a parent is one of the greatest things that can ever happen to somebody.”
Mark Fisher of Body Positive says these pregnancies reiterate the importance of the message of Sperm Positive.
“We are reducing stigma by proving that people living with HIV can safely create life, and therefore pose no risk to anyone. I can’t think of a better message for the public to take on board this World AIDS Day, as that understanding is sorely needed.”
We are reducing stigma by proving that people living with HIV can safely create life, and therefore pose no risk to anyone. I can’t think of a better message for the public to take on board this World AIDS Day, as that understanding is sorely needed.
New data from the first study of its kind in Aotearoa has uncovered concerning levels of HIV stigma is still experienced here, serving as a timely reminder on World AIDS Day (Tuesday 1 December). The People Living with HIV Stigma Index, a study where interviewers and participants are living with HIV, has shown that HIV stigma is still a current issue negatively impacting people’s lives, employment, education, housing, and relationships.
One study participant reported that even today, they are forced to use tongs in the kitchen when handling their own family’s food – when there is no risk of HIV transmission in that situation.
Study Project Manager and Positive Women National Coordinator Jane Bruning says it’s unacceptable that people are being subjected to human rights violations and encourages Kiwis to get rid of their outdated information and attitudes about HIV.
“The findings in our report show clear human rights breaches and stories of discrimination that are appalling to hear. Raising awareness of the stigma and discrimination that’s still present in Aotearoa today is exactly why studies like this and initiatives that educate people, like Sperm Positive, are needed.”
Jon*, another successful Sperm Positive donor, agrees, “HIV stigma remains an omnipresent cloud, with potential risks of career prejudice and negative attitudes if the condition becomes known.
“I am so grateful for the advances in science and the work of these organisations to fearlessly raise awareness of the possibility of an HIV positive parent bringing an HIV negative baby into the world. We have a lot to be thankful for the efforts of Positive Women Inc, Body Positive and NZAF in working to change societal attitudes, and for recognising that people living with HIV would like to have children.”
Natasha, for whom Jon was the donor, is expecting her daughter in February. She says the process with Sperm Positive could not have been simpler and at no time was she concerned about the health impacts.
“Jon was fantastic. He was very informative and we had a really open conversation. The more I learned about it, the more comfortable I felt with choosing Sperm Positive. I cannot understand why there is still stigma around HIV. People just need to educate themselves a bit more,” Natasha says.
Both Matt and Jon are looking forward to meeting their offspring next year. “I cannot wait to physically meet this little person with a bit of me in them. It has brought so much joy to us all,” Matt said.
Meanwhile, Natasha says that what Jon has done for her is a blessing. “I’m so grateful to him and am excited to welcome a new addition to my family, thanks to him and Sperm Positive.”
Sperm Positive’s launch has had flow-on effects in New Zealand’s fertility industry. “Repromed have been helping people living with HIV create families since 2010 – but what is new is that those with HIV can now donate sperm to friends or acquaintances,” says Dr Guy Gudex, Repromed Medical Director.