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Male birth control: can it work in Africa?

Scientists have developed a male contraceptive pill that prevents pregnancy by weakening the sperm, a process which is reversible. If introduced in Africa, could it really work?



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 new birth control methods for men.

A male contraceptive pill is just one of them. Developed from an Indonesian shrub, scientists claim that it is 99 per cent effective and has few side effects.

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 shrub which goes by the name, the gendarussa plant, has long been used as a contraceptive by an ethnic community in Papua. They would boil the leaves then drink the water 30 minutes before having sex.

The pill would weaken the sperm by making them unable to penetrate the egg and fertilize it. Photo: KTSDESIGN/Science Photo Library/ Corbis via

The pill would weaken the sperm by making them unable to penetrate the egg and fertilize it. Photo: KTSDESIGN/Science Photo Library/ Corbis via

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.

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 and has been carrying out research for 30 years is currently working on a dosage. He hopes to create a formula so that men can take the pill an hour before sex. According to him, the pill could be available by 2016 however regulations may delay it for a decade longer in Europe and the US.

Coming closer home, it would be interesting to see how African men would receive the pill. Being the conservative society we are, it is highly unlikely that it would have majority backing. From the public stripping of women in Kenya to bans of ‘indecent’ attire and behaviour in Uganda and Zimababwe respectively, the male contraceptive sounds like a far off cry which may be barely heard. Religious stands which are deeply entrenched may be another reason as to why the pill might not even reach the shores of the continent.

I see the pill as a good idea as it gives couples more options to contraception without necessarily having to always place the burden on women. After all, it takes two to tango so why not apply the same to birth control?

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