Calcutta, May 18: Hungry for a baby, she went from one infertility clinic to another, getting herself artificially inseminated. She did not get the baby. Instead, she got the human immuno-deficiency virus.
Thirty-five-year-old Suparna (not her real name), housewife in an affluent central Calcutta family, is now undergoing treatment at the School of Tropical Medicine (STM) after being diagnosed with HIV which she got — according to STM officials — from one of her six sessions of artificial insemination at three infertility clinics.
Though another school of medical thought would advise caution before blaming the insemination sessions — a more thorough probe is essential, they feel — STM officials say her tryst with the virus began in 1997 when, as a 29-year-old woman, she began knocking on the doors of the city’s better known infertility clinics.
Her husband was suffering from azoospermia (absence of sperms adequate for natural insemination) and doctors recommended artificial insemination. Donation of sperm is not yet legal in the country but artificial insemination with a donor’s sperms is done in cases where donor and recipient agree on the process, doctors said.
Suparna went to three infertility clinics between 1997 and 2002 where sperms from donors were implanted in her ovary. Finally, realising that her efforts to conceive were leading nowhere, Suparna and her husband approached a city-based NGO for adopting a child; the NGO recommended HIV and hepatitis-B tests.
Suparna visited STM in August 2002, where deputy director and virology head Dhruba Kumar Neogi oversaw the Elisa and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests on her. Those tests revealed that Suparna was HIV-positive, Neogi said on Sunday.
“One of the three infertility clinics, in all probability, did not screen the male donor for HIV-positivity properly,” he added, claiming that Suparna was the first Indian (and the 15th in the world) to contract HIV from artificial-insemination sessions.
Suparna is now undergoing treatment at the STM and — despite being at least two years away from becoming a full-blown AIDS case — is an example of the “callous approach” of most of the infertility centres that operate in the city, officials said.
Director of medical education C.R. Maiti said he would convene a meeting of senior departmental officials on Monday before ordering a thorough probe. “I will also speak to Neogi to discuss his findings,” he added.
Neogi, however, was sure that the blame lay with one of the infertility clinics. “We checked and cross-checked all her investigation-reports (before she went in for artificial insemination) and found them to be negative,” he said.
Eminent infertility expert Baidyanath Chakraborty said he was aware of the case.
“If a donor is not screened properly over a long period of time, there is a chance of infection,” he said. “But more investigations are necessary before pinning the blame on the insemination sessions,” he added.
Experts believe that “special tests”, including the Elisa, PCR and P-24 antigen tests, should be done to eliminate chances of HIV-infection completely before going for artificial insemination.
The semen, before being artificially inseminated, should also be preserved through the “cryo-preservation” (in liquid nitrogen) procedure for three to six months and the male donor should be asked to undergo another HIV-test after that period to rule out chances of HIV-infection, they added.