28 March 2019

Ugandans Welcome Male Pill

Photo: New Zimbabwe
Contraceptive pills (file photo).

Kampala — A male family planning pill that passed initial human safety tests in a study has excited Ugandans, a country with one of the fastest growing populations in the world.

The National Planning Authority data indicates that Uganda's population is growing at 3.3 per cent annually, making it the highest in East Africa and third in the world.

Kenya's growth rate stands at 2.5 per cent, Burundi (3.2 per cent), Tanzania (3.1 per cent) and Rwanda at 2.4 per cent.

At a medical conference in Seattle, US, early this week, a team of scientists revealed that they had developed a capsule that can suppress hormonal levels, thereby reducing the production of sperm and testosterone.

"The goal is to expand contraceptive options and create a menu of choices for men like we have for women. We are neglecting a major potential user population with the limited options currently available to men," Stephanie Page, a professor of medicine and co-senior investigator on the trial at the University of Washington, was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying.

Another researcher on the team, Prof Christina Wang, was quoted by the BBC saying: "Our results suggest that this pill, which combines two hormonal activities in one, will decrease sperm production while preserving libido."

Such findings, Dr Ekwaro Obuku, the president of Uganda Medical Association, said is good news and gives another option of how to control births.

"This pill expands options for planned parenting and diminishes the risk of side effects common in existing methods," Dr Obuku said.

He, however, warned that "cultural aspects become important for acceptability of this men's pill".

"In patriarchal societies, men would less likely play this role effectively. Sensitisation of boys, young and older men would improve uptake," Dr Obuku said yesterday.

Dr Haruna Mwanje, a gynaecologist at Mulago hospital, was also optimistic that a pill that is swallowed once daily, is easy to adhere to. He particularly appealed to men to consider family planning seriously as a tool for family proper.

"It takes two to tangle and currently, it is mainly women who have been taking the lead in family planning," Dr Mwanje said, adding "It is not that every time a man goes to have sex, he is looking for a child. Some do it for pleasure and I think this pill is welcome."

Current methods

Currently, condom use, vasectomy, abstinence and withdrawal are the methods available for men.

Ms Esther Namitala, a social worker, termed the innovation "brilliant". "It will speak to men who are hesitant or scared to go for the permanent method [vasectomy]. However, knowing most men's egos, it will require a lot of sensitisation for them to embrace the pills," Ms Namitala said.

Mr David Mwayafu, a scientist, said: "It will require a lot of sensitisation on the pro and cons of male pills. Every innovation is good if it's acceptable by the beneficiaries and has no side effects to the users."

Mr Herbert Kafeero, an activist, also believes in massive sensitisation if the pill is to be embraced by men. According to a Family Planning Progress Report released three years ago, the demand for family planning is growing and from 2012 to 2016, 613,000 women requested for a modern contraceptive method for the first time. This demand for contraceptives prevented 595,000 unintended pregnancies in 2016, accoring the report.

About the pill

The pill is being tested by La BioMed and the University of Washington. Participants in the trial experienced mild side-effects such as decreased sex drive and erectile dysfunction. The trial involved 40 healthy men and lasted for one month.

The drug works by blocking the production of hormones called LH and FSH that are needed to make sperms, according the Guardian.

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