Mention Genderussa, and most people imagine it to be a feminine hygiene product. In fact it is the world’s first non-hormonal, oral male contraceptive drug, currently in the third phase of clinical trials in Indonesia. If all goes well, it will hit the markets here early 2013.
The question everyone is asking however is, will men have it? Indonesian health experts are hoping they will. At nearly 237 million,Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. The government here has taken a huge initiative in curbing population growth, but its progress has been hampered by the lack of male participation, with less than 2% of men chipping in. Genderussa, experts here are hoping will change that age-old mindset. ‘’Family planning is not just for women. It’s a decision made by the couple, ‘’ says Dr Sugiri Syarief of the national Demographic and Family planning agency, BkkbN.
Derived from the native Justicia Genderussa plant which grows in Papua, Indonesia, research into the pill started in 1987, after some experts found that men on these islands traditionally used the genderussa leaves as a contraceptive. Local laws do not allow the men to get married unless they pay a huge dowry. They can, however live in with their partners, as long as they do not have children.
“Our tests showed the leaves had properties that disturb the enzyme system of the sperm,’’ says Prof Bambang Prajogo, Senior Researcher at the Faculty of Pharmacy, Airlagga University in Surabaya which is conducting the trials. Genderussa, however is a toxic plant, and the alkaloids are removed with an acidic solution. Traditionally the people would boil the whole plant to eliminate the toxic compounds. ‘’We have done tests to ensure there is no pesticide residue, ash content, microbes and radioactive impurities in the leaves,’’ claims Prajogo. The findings have been published in an Indonesian journal, but not as yet internationally.
‘’Genderussa guarantees safety, quality and efficacy as per WHO requirements on contraceptive drugs,’’ says Dr Dyan Pramesti, who is leading the clinical trials. There is a common side effect, namely abdominal discomfort. One subject we spoke to however said he would recommend the pill to his friends.
Islam allows non permanent methods of family planning. So genderussa fits right in. It’s taken like any birth control pill, one dose a day. If it works, and passes safety standards in other countries, it could well revolutionize the way the world looks at family planning. Hormonal contraceptives are endangering the lives of many women. Genderussa, which is non-hormonal, could prevent that. Last, and most important, it’s a fundamental move towards gender equality.