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Sweden sees sperm deficit as COVID pandemic deters donors

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By Euronews
An embryologist displays some of the frozen sperm stored at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Sweden is facing a sperm shortage.
An embryologist displays some of the frozen sperm stored at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Sweden is facing a sperm shortage.   -   Copyright  Richard Drew/AP
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Health professionals in Sweden are sounding the alarm over concerns of a sperm donation shortage spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

With sperm donors deterred from travelling to hospitals during the pandemic, doctors at public fertility clinics say the worsening shortage could result in years-long delays for assisted pregnancy treatments.

"Because of the pandemic, many [men] won't come to the hospital because we have social restrictions in place," Margareta Kitlinski, a senior consultant at the Centre of Reproductive Medicine at the Skane University Hospital in Malmo, told Euronews on Thursday.

"So, over the last three months we have had to take a pulse and [right now], we don't do any IVF treatment with donor sperms because we simply don't have any," she said.

In the midst of the pandemic, Kitlinski said her own clinic has seen its wait times for assisted pregnancy treatments double due to the lack of sperm donations.

"If I compare the figures from two years ago, the waiting list was three months to one year maximum and now we have a waiting list for two years," she said. "I do think the last year has doubled the waiting list."

Kitlinski said Gothenburg's University Hospital was experiencing a similar shortage, with Stockholm likely to follow.

Indeed, in an interview with Reuters, which first reported on the issue, Ann Thurin Kjellberg, who leads the reproduction unit at Gothenburg's University Hospital, said the clinic was "running out of sperm".

"We've never had so few donors as during the last year," she said.

Kitlinski did say that public reproduction units in Sweden have seen donor numbers dip in recent years due to the rise of private fertility clinics in the country.

What many donors may not realise, she said, is that they will be paid the same amount of money whether they choose to attend a public or private clinic.

Those seeking assisted pregnancy treatments, however, will have to pay a hefty sum to private fertility clinics, whereas public treatment is free.

At a private clinic, the treatment can cost up to 100,000 Swedish crowns (€9,874), making it inaccessible to many across the country.

According to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, Sweden is among the countries with the highest assisted conception rates in the world.

However, the country also has strict policies around sperm donations, with a sperm sample only eligible to be used by a maximum of six women.

Kitlinski said she hopes that more potential donors will come forward over the months ahead.

But with Sweden grappling with a major surge in coronavirus cases over recent weeks, it could take some time before donations begin to pick up again.

On Wednesday, the country recorded 8,879 new COVID-19 cases and 60 deaths within a 24-hour period, bringing its total number of coronavirus cases up to 885,385 and its death toll up to 13,720, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Since the pandemic began last year, Sweden has resisted implementing strict lockdown measures, instead opting to keep the economy largely open and impose less severe restrictions.