Sperm washing is a procedure that was first developed in Milan, The oldest child conceived using this method is now about 14 and is HIV negative. The first known US-American baby conceived this way, Baby Ryan, was born in 1999 through the Special Program of Assisted Reproduction started by Dr. Ann Kiessling.
This technique was created to aid sero-discordant couples (where only one partner has HIV infection). The idea behind sperm washing is separating the actual sperm that will fertilize an egg from the seminal fluid which is the part that is infectious that carries the HIV virus. HIV has been shown to mainly reside in the seminal fluid of HIV positive males. If the fluid and sperm can be separated or “washed” the risk of contracting HIV is greatly reduced – not only to the woman carrying the baby but reducing the risk of “vertical” transmission which is the transmission of the virus from mother to child.
This isn’t to say there isn’t controversy surrounding this technology. Many experts disagree with how well sperm washing protects women. In a 2005 study from Italy showed out of 567 couples treated with sperm washing, 298 pregnancies resulted and 224 children were born. The study showed that the procedure conducted in HIV-positive men had not resulted in any horizontal (to women) or vertical (to a child) HIV. However, there is no 100% guarantee that the HIV virus is not present in sperm that are active and motile.
In 2007 another multicenter – European study was conducted – The study involved 1036 couples where the man was HIV-positive and the women HIV-negative. These couples had over 3000 cycles of assisted reproduction using washed sperm. Not a single case of HIV transmission occurred. On the basis of this finding the investigators write, “it is neither ethically nor legally justifiable to exclude individuals from infertility services on the basis of male HIV-infection.”
You can also forget about insurance paying for this procedure. In fact, the procedure is extremely expensive – in the USA alone it has a hefty price tag of $10,000.00
HIV sperm washing has been a technique used in the UK since 1999, in fact Chelsea and Westminster Hospital was the first hospital in the UK to offer this service. Interestingly enough sperm washing may no longer be necessary, at least in the UK, under specific circumstances according to draft guidelines from the National Institute for Heal and Clinical Excellence better known as NICE.
According to NICE, if a male partner who has been diagnosed with HIV follows his antiretroviral therapy to the letter, has an undetectable viral load, doesn’t have other sexually transmitted infections and limits unprotected sexual intercourse to days when his female partner is ovulating, the additional step of sperm washing may do little to further reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.
There are approximately 25 different places around the globe that offer HIV sperm washing for its patients.
Centers like The IVF centre at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune, India has been using this technique since 2006 as well as centers in Thailand, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Germany, as well as Russia. In the next month Global IVF will list out the exact companies that do this in their Global IVF Directory Search.