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Radio Review: Trying to Find a Black Egg Donor

3 February 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1033

At 38 years of age, with four failed rounds of IVF behind her, Natasha wants to know why she can't find a non-white egg donor. She also wants to understand why, specifically, donors from an Afro-Caribbean background are not coming forward to donate to couples for whom donor IVF represents the only hope of having a baby. In this sensitive and at times acutely emotional programme, she sets out to talk to three experts in the world of assisted conception to try to find some answers.

Her first conversation is with Dr Edmond Edi-Osagie, gynaecologist and reproductive medicine expert. Dr Edi-Osagie admits that unfortunately there has been no progress in creating a bespoke service to Afro-Caribbean women; the donors simply aren't coming forward. Why is this? Dr Edi-Osagie believes there is a cultural dimension that is not empowering the black community to volunteer for donation. 

Natasha's reaction is understandable frustration – where are the leaflets, why is there no public awareness campaign? Greece and Spain, for instance, have a monetised initiative to encourage donors. It comes as a surprise to find out that we already have this in the UK (£750 per egg collection, apparently). Dr Edi-Osagie recounts how one of his patients put up cards in her local church and supermarket; three potential donors came forward as a result. Natasha is appalled at this DIY approach but Dr Edi-Osagie is pragmatic: 'Peculiar problems call for peculiar solutions'.

In conversation with Helen George, counsellor and psychotherapist, the lack of participation among the Afro-Caribbean community is explained by the culture of silence around infertility and private matters. George, who has worked extensively in BAME mental health, sums this up as 'you don't talk your business to people', something that chimes with Natasha's experience.

Natasha admits to producer Ben Carter that she doesn't discuss her fertility problems with her family, and although her husband has been through treatment with her, 'I don't feel he has a full understanding of how I feel'.

Carter offers Natasha some stark statistics: of 1900 individual donors who came forward last year, only 15 were Afro-Caribbean (only Chinese donors were further down the scale at eight). So why, asks Natasha, aren't the HFEA doing something about this?

Mr Yacoub Khalaf, a fertility clinician and HFEA board member, explains that HFEA is a regulatory body, not an agent for gamete donor recruitment.  If Natasha's frustration spills over at this point it is a recognisable moment for anyone who has navigated IVF without a clear idea of the function of regulatory bodies or patient advocacy groups. Khalaf points out the limits of the HFEA's remit and positively encourages Natasha to be a representative voice, bringing awareness to her community of the acute need for women to come forward and donate eggs.

The programme handles sensitive issues carefully, allowing the narrative to unfold gently, but packs an emotional punch when Natasha realises she will probably have to deal not only with the gruelling treatment but also with the challenge of breaking some traditional taboos around infertility within her community and in society at large, by speaking out and working towards recruiting a donor. 

The habit of silence stifles awareness and understanding and acts as an invisible but powerful obstacle to progress. It would be good to think that as a result of her bravery in taking part in the programme, Natasha's quest for a donor might be reaching a successful resolution.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Natasha: Trying to find a black egg donor
BBC Radio 4 |  13 January 2020
'Why can't I find an Afro-Caribbean egg donor?'
BBC News |  13 January 2020
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