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Male Birth Control: Can It Work In Africa?

In December 2014, scientists developed a male birth control pill which they claimed was 99 percent effective with minimal side effects. The pill derived from an Indonesian shrub known as the gendarussa plant, apparently allowed men to produce sperm which could not get women pregnant. Traditionally, contraception methods have largely been customised for women with men having fewer options. This however may be about to change with the emergence of the new birth control methods for men.

A male contraceptive pill is just one of them. According to the Daily Mail, the pill apparently makes men produce sperm that cannot get women pregnant. This happens by weakening three key sperm enzymes and making them unable to penetrate the egg during the fertilization process. The gendarussa plant, has long been used as a contraceptive by an ethnic community in Papua. The process involves boiling the leaves then drinking the water 30 minutes before having sex.

After clinical trials with the largest studying 350 men, the pill was found to be 99 per cent effective while men’s fertility was found to return to normal a month after taking the pill though some men while on the pill, gained some weight. Side-effects were few and far between and according to researchers are no match for those found in hormone- based female contraceptives. Professor Bambang Prajogo of Airlangga Univeristy who developed the pill after carrying out a research for 30 years isolating the active ingredient, putting it into a tablet form and carrying out clinical trials to prove its contraceptive effects, is currently working on a dosage. He hopes to create a formula so that men can take the pill an hour before sex. He says the plant’s active ingredient disrupts three key enzymes in sperm, weakening them and making them unable to penetrate the eggs during the fertilization process.

“This would not interfere with the quality or quality of sperm produced because it only targets the enzymes,” Prajogo said. According to him, the pill could be available by 2016 however regulations may delay it for a decade longer in Europe and the US. Before now, there have been few changes in male contraception with only two methods being available to men- condoms and vasectomythough some men use the withdrawal method to try to prevent pregnancy.

Also available to men is the Vasagel which is a polymer gel injected into the sperm duct through the scrotum. The gel blocks sperm but lets the rest of the fluid ejaculate through, which means it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. The Vasalgel is similar to a compound called RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of   Sperm Under Guidance) that is being trialed in India. Unlike other drugs, vasalgel has been tested on rabbits and primates and clinical trials are due to start in early 2016. Apart from the Vasalgel and the gendarussa, there is an implant- anti-Eppin which binds to a protein (Eppin) in the sperm and stops the sperm from swimming towards the egg. It is at the clinical stage There is a huge gap in the market for male contraceptives, with new technologies being developed.

Some health experts say that the challenge is that men produce so many sperms (around 1,000 per second) compared to women who produce one egg per month which means that suppressing an egg is easier than stemming the flood of sperms. The problem is not with the production of male contraceptives be it pill, injection or implant, the question is when introduced into the market will men use it? Kamsiyochi Silver, a metallurgical engineer, there is no reason for any sane man worth his money to invest his money in such a business venture. this he said is because “The company will close very soon if that is the only product they have because I don’t think any man in Nigeria let alone Africa would take the pill.”

Maurice Michael, a lawyer first exclaimed in Igbo language” Inukwa!” which literally means ‘have you   casheard’, often used when one hears an unusual information. “Why would I use a pill for family planning which side effect I do not know whether it is temporary or permanent. Besides, if problems arise from its usage, who would I report to?” A man simply called Unkle Kingsley wondered why men would be subjected to such procedures. “Have we been reduced to the level of women now, let these white men stop toying with our intelligence. I do not blame them, Africa is their dumping ground and the Nigerian market is volatile and they believe that everything they bring here would be bought,” he lamented. Donald would rather stick to the condom than give the pills a chance. In his words, “I would rather use the condom I am familiar with than take any pills. This is basically because of the side effects which such drugs usually have.

I don’t think it is safe or reliable but even if they are, I still prefer the condom.” Pius, a media practitioner does not want to give anything to chance. “I don’t want to tamper with God’s naturally manufactured product. Certain things are better left the way they are. It is even a sin to do that because it alters the natural flow of the sperm. Personally, I cannot subject myself to the use of such pills though some men could use it as part of family planning. I’d rather stick to Billings’ natural family planning method than make use of the pills,” he said. Tony Idahosa, a technician, would not even hear of it. “Why would I use a contraceptive pill?” he asked. “All those drugs have funny side effects which they may not wish to tell us. I still want to be able to fire and refire o!

I am not a party to anything that would alter my natural flow q.e.d.” Dele Obanla, a civil servant, admits to not making use of any contraceptives since he got married. however, he believes that “man may make use of contraceptive pills if they know the modus operandi. But if it is one that would work on deactivating their sperm, many may reject it.” While many rejected the idea, to some it is a welcome development given the fact that many men who are sexually active do not like to have casheard es of unwanted pregnancies pegged on them. Chiemeka Onumajuru, a Chemist said “I am aware of the male birth control pills though some have been withdrawn due to toxicity. Essentially, the male contraceptives are yet to undergo multicentre randomized trials.

I think the issue here is for the men to subject themselves to the trial. However, it may be hard for it to be accepted in Africa generally.” Onyedikachi Amadi, a philosopher, sees no wrong in men having contraceptive pills mainly because “Married men may use it as a means if birth control, but singles will sure stick to contraceptives to avoid Sexually Transmitted Diseases, STDs.” Similarly, Desmond Harry, a lab scientist felt that “Men will highly patronize it. Contraceptive is solely for Family planning/ birth spacing. Hoping it doesn’t lead to an increase in rape incidents and reckless sexual life styles since the fear of unwanted/ unplanned pregnancy will be reduced or likely eliminated. Another thing is to know if the product comes in the form of latex or pills? If it comes in the form of pills, it may not prevent STI’s.” For Edward, an estate manager, does not see anything inhibiting the use of the male contraceptive pills as long as “it is for the benefit of my family.” Though Prof. Prajogo says his pills may be available in the market by 2016 while the Vasalgel would commence clinical trials same year, the level of acceptance by men remains uncertain.

-In December 2014, Scientists developed a male contraceptive pill, which weakens the sperm to prevent pregnancy. The process is reversible and its debut is eagerly awaited in America and Europe with little or no impact in Africa, writes Nwakaego Ohaegbulam with agency reports.

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