Would a ‘male pill’ revolutionise birth control in Pakistan?

Published: November 18, 2012

As Pakistan’s population time bomb ticks, contraceptive pills for men might become a game-changer. DESIGN: SAMRA AAMIR

KARACHI: 

With the world’s sixth largest population, and growing faster than the top five, Pakistan needs to drastically rethink contraception and family planning.

Until now, conception has largely been a man’s decision in a patriarchal society like Pakistan’s, but usage of contraceptives, when allowed by men, has largely been a woman’s responsibility.

That dynamic, however, may soon be turned on its head by the advent of the ‘male pill.’

The ticking bomb

The country’s headcount ticked past 180 million on World Population Day, July 11, 2012, according to the Population Census Organisation of the Government of Pakistan, and is expected to reach 300 million by 2050.

Fertility rates have been halved to 3.42 births per woman, from historic highs of 6.6 all the way up to the mid 1970s, but contraception usage is restricted.

Only 30% of married Pakistani women, however, use any form of contraception, according to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, 2007. The percentage of men who use contraceptives is much lower.

That may simply be because of the variety of contraceptive options available to women – from pills and coils to injectables and rings – compared to only one accessible option for men, condoms. Even for that there is a lot of resistance. Vasectomy, for its invasiveness and non-reversibility, is not a popular option. In Pakistan, attitudes are also influenced by Islamic teachings that discourage permanent methods of contraception.

“According to Shariah [law] contraception is allowed if there is a genuine reason. But the methods allowed should be temporary and reversible and should not harm the user’s health. The reason should not be ‘who will feed them’,” said Mufti Shah Tafazzul Ali of Darul-uloom Karachi.

A contraceptive for men that is safe, non-invasive and with reversible effects may sound too good to be true, but is already in the making.

Herbal pill

While both allopathic and herbal versions of an oral male contraceptive are currently under research, the closest to hit the shelves is the pill from Indonesia.

Made from the shrub justicia gendarussa, which is found mostly in the Papua Island, the pill “disturbs the enzyme system of spermatozoa and affects its function,” according to Professor Bambang Prajogo, who started research on the world’s first non-hormonal contraceptive pill for males in 1987 at the Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia.

In simpler words, the active ingredient from the herb weakens the sperm, disabling it from penetrating an ovum. The pill’s effect, meanwhile, is not permanent. According to findings of Dr Dyan Pramesti from Airlangga University, who held clinical trials, men were fertile again just two months after they stopped taking the pill.

The pill has been tested on mice for years, and has shown to be safe, effective and with few side effects, Professor Prajogo had said in an interview to PBS in July 2011. Clinical trials on humans had already started by then and, according to Prajogo, had shown “impressive results.”

The Gendarussa pill is ready to hit the Indonesian market in 2013, but will have to be approved by the World Health Organisation before it will be widely available elsewhere. Right now, a small-scale herbal medicine company called Naturoz has started the pill’s production. Once approved by international health authorities, it can easily be exported to Pakistan.

Under research

The latest news of an allopathic male pill has come out of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Researchers discovered a compound, JQ1, that produces a rapid and reversible decrease in sperm count in mice.

According to a report from August 2012, the compound penetrates a boundary in the cells of the male testes and shuts off sperm development. The result is non-hormonal birth control that researchers said is entirely reversible. The research, however, is preliminary and clinical trials have yet to begin.

Revolutionising family planning

The idea of a male pill is being hailed by women’s groups, receptive males, and family planning advocates. The male pill would not only broaden the choice in contraceptives, but also change social attitudes towards family planning.

“Men being supportive, and involved in the choice, of a contraceptive method is the way forward. It would signal a behavioural change as currently men are generally a barrier to family planning,” said Dr Rehana Ahmed, a director at Greenstar Social Marketing, Pakistan and senior international health adviser to several NGOs.

“But behavioural change requires a process – pre-contemplation, then contemplation phase, and finally action. It is a slow process,” Dr Ahmed added.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2012.

Reader Comments (15)

  • Genius
    Nov 18, 2012 - 2:35PM

    Herbs that promote contraceptiion are good news and has also been discovered to be in use in some part of Palestine long ago.
    Population control is absolutely vital for the people of the world, more so for the people of Asia, Africa and South America. We all can see violence, murders, mass murders becoming common among the desperate people of Asia, Africa and South America.
    It is bad time that people taking Opium that population growth is good, opened their eyes and took responsibility to promote awareness among the masses of the need to practice contraception for their own good and for the good of humanity. For the good of our future generations for whom now we have left nothing.

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  • DevilHunterX
    Nov 18, 2012 - 3:55PM

    Make it a suppository. I am sure the anti-contraceptionists will love it.

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  • Uqaab
    Nov 18, 2012 - 5:11PM

    An absolute important and vital issue but I doubt it’ll have an impact.

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  • ruby
    Nov 18, 2012 - 6:01PM
  • Yasir
    Nov 18, 2012 - 7:05PM

    I am not in favour of these, if you dont want many kids stick with your life. I can have as many as kids I want. God feeds the kids, not ET.

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  • Blah
    Nov 18, 2012 - 7:46PM

    PAKISTAN DESPERATELY NEEDS AN EFFECTIVE BIRTH CONTROL AND FAMILY PLANING

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  • Something Clever
    Nov 18, 2012 - 8:26PM

    Maybe if the problem wasn’t the fact that many believe they have a religious duty to procreate. From that view, for them, it’s borderline blasphemy. The ones that would use birth control probably aren’t your main problem to begin with.
    I mean, really, we’re talking about the people who think vaccines are conspiracies to make Muslims sterile so they can stop the spread of Islam.

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  • Hussain
    Nov 18, 2012 - 10:59PM

    it is already proved that long term use of these kind of pills, destroy manly power in a man and they loses his ability to have children after continuous use.

    One research has shown that man Y chromosomes becomes so weak that they lose their ability to have male babies.

    Just do a google and these all you will get with prove. be careful.

    Note: Birth control is prohibited in Islam.

    Why birth control is only prohibited in Muslim countries, why westerners country don’t implement these laws? a dajali thinking which is imposed in Muslims which are away from Islam

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  • mantharia
    Nov 19, 2012 - 12:04AM

    Educate men and women , let them decide what is good for them and need of Pakistan.Dont force anybody in to any thing, its their life they are living I m sure education will change us for good.

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  • Historian 1
    Nov 19, 2012 - 12:26AM

    @ Yasir

    “I am not in favour of these, if you dont want many kids stick with your life. I can have as many as kids I want. God feeds the kids, not ET.”

    If god feeds the kids, Then why millions of children die every year due to malnutrition. Please use your brains sometimes instead of following mullah.

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  • Naresh
    Nov 19, 2012 - 1:34AM

    .
    The Population figure of 180 Million is a case of “Heavy Underestimation”
    .
    Please read the following Article :
    .
    http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-13-13514-Population-shoots-up-by-47-percent-since-1998
    .
    Population shoots up by 47 percent since 1998
    .
    It states : “However, with the inclusion of population of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, the population of the country would reach 197,361,691 in 2011 against 134,714,017 in 1998, showing an increase of 46.5 percent.
    .
    Cheers

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  • Human
    Nov 19, 2012 - 9:07AM

    This can never be implemented as very few men are educated & very few have the Brains that God has given us all common sense .
    The rest will just make it a Religious Issue like its against Islam . God will FEED all my kids . Most even believe that God gives them all those kids they have nothing to do with it

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  • Human
    Nov 19, 2012 - 9:09AM

    @Yasir:
    Really !!!!!!!

    Grow Up

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  • Faiz
    Nov 19, 2012 - 9:19AM

    I was watching this program on marrige issues on express and I deeply regret what pakistanis scholar has to say all the developed nations achived thier goal by controlling and limiting thier population growth a whole study has been done on population read “Malthusian Population Theoery”.
    I am sure my muslim friends don’t agree but please for the love of your country and future of your family as well use common sense.@Yasir
    Pakistan does not have enough resources to feed its population almost 40% of Pakistan sleeps without night meal.
    Think before it is late otherwise a horrible future awaits muslims………….

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  • Dec 26, 2012 - 4:00AM

    Offering education will not make a significant difference since many educated middle class families have high birth rates. Offering contraception will not work either.

    Regions and countries with high fertility suffer from overpopulation. Cut the food production and population drops.

    If you keep producing and selling cheap food in Pakistan, population will continue to grow and living conditions will deteriorate.

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