Kenya’s sperm banks don’t like publicity. Their business has been treated as a laughing matter, they say. Yet in a nation where at least one fifth of all adult males are infertile, they are a resource that Kenyans are increasingly turning to, as well-paid donors, and high-paying buyers.
According to local media reports, male infertility is the cause of some 55 per cent of childless couples. More than 11 per cent of Kenyan men who have sought help have been found to have a low sperm count condition (Oligospermia), considered to be the most frequent cause of infertility. A further 8.5 per cent of men have Azoospermia, which is the complete absence of sperm in the semen.
For many, the only way forward is through donated sperm. The image of donors masturbating in cubicles to leave their semen behind them to begin sometimes hundreds of new lives is more than many can get past without a snigger. But donating sperm is a serious and important business, say the doctors, especially in Africa, where childlessness is seen as a curse, and even bearing girls alone can lead to a woman being shunned by the extended family.
The chance to buy sperm to create a conception through an operation has drawn women secretly, single women, and a growing stream of childless couples, able to choose the sex of their future child, and pick over the attributes of the biological father without ever meeting or knowing them. Even where the fertility problem is on the woman’s side, sperm deposited in the uterus through artificial means has a 26 to 52 per cent chance of leading to a pregnancy.
It’s a phenomenon that began in the 1960s in the US, and has contributed to the growth of the diversity of mankind, according to researchers, with one sperm donor reported to have sired over 100 offspring without knowing it, according to Men’s Health.
However, the concept of sperm banks and donation in Kenya is still relatively new. Kenya now has five in-vitro fertilization clinics, some of which also run sperm banks. The private clinics have been active for nearly three years, and say that childless couples most often bring along relatives or those known to them as the sperm donor. However, according to one visitor of a clinic that offers sperm donation services, some of the banks now offer sperm from foreign donors as well as from Kenyan donors.
“People wanting to get babies look at a set of photos of sperm donors and choose the donor,’ he said, although the recipient remains unknown to the donor.
In a typical sperm bank, especially in the west, the donor will usually enter into a contract to donate sperm for an agreed period of time generally ranging from six months to two years.
To donate sperm a man must meet specific requirements regarding age and medical history. Some tests he is required to undergo before he’s allowed to produce sperm samples include that of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and Syphilis. Some sperm agencies also ask for details concerning the donors’ family background including those of past generations.
Once he has met the specifications or is classed a “fit donor”, a man will donate sperm at a clinic or sperm bank by masturbating in a private room, known as a men's production room in the UK or a masturbatorium in the US. Numerous facilities contain pornography, such as videos, magazines, or photographs to assist the donor in becoming stimulated. That is in order to facilitate production of the semen sample.
However, according to the visitor of a Kenyan clinic that offers sperm donation services, stimulation in the form of masturbation or the use of pornographic material is not necessary, as technology is now advanced.
“After testing (for infectious diseases), a sperm ejaculator is used (to extract sperm),” he said.
Afterwards, the collected sample is then processed, after its quality, which includes sperm count, motility, and concentration, is judged. Processing may include “washing” so that sperm may be extracted from the rest of the material in the semen, and an extender is added which also assists the freezing process. The sample is then frozen in small glass tubes called vials.
The donor, according to the visitor of the clinic, can walk away with at least Sh20,000 or more, depending on which clinic he goes to or what negotiations are done.
However, a couple or a woman wanting to get pregnant from the sperm can pay a fee of Sh300,000 for the in-vitro fertilization processes, covering both sperm and operation.
Those willing to become sperm donors (or even egg donors), and childless couples hoping to conceive from donors, can visit Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi for details of facilities and options.
But, as the Swahili saying goes: “Kuzaa sio kazi, kazi ni kulea mwana,” ( “the real work is not merely giving birth, but in raising the child”).
Written by Stella Kabura for African Laughte