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Indonesia's birth control pill for men

While US progress lags, Indonesia readies male contraception pill.

Though Indonesia’s population of 237 million is only increasing by about 1.3 percent annually, according to the state’s family planning agency, the nation’s poor do most of the procreating. Roughly half of Indonesians live off $2 a day.

Stabilizing Indonesia’s population is now a major government priority, Sugiri said. His family planning agency’s budget was doubled last year to $271 million.

“Everybody has to understand that if we do nothing, the population explosion will be too much,” he said. “We can’t just give men two choices: vasectomy or condoms.”

But Indonesia isn’t the only Asian nation pouring research into male birth control. In China, researchers have tested a hormone-altering pill that proved 95 percent effective.

Indian scientists have developed a polymer that, when injected into vas deferens tubes, kills almost all the sperm before ejaculation. When the polymer is flushed out with a doctor’s assistance, the man is again able to father children.

“A lot of the most exciting work is coming out the developing world,” Lissner said. “When you have incredible brainpower that now has access to good equipment, you start getting some pretty good science.”

But U.S. regulations are likely to prevent American men from accessing these recent developments anytime soon.

Before authorizing a pill’s U.S. release, the federal Food and Drug Administration would likely want scientists to repeat many studies conducted abroad, though some of the data could “potentially be re-used in an application,” Lissner said. The entire process, she estimated, could take five to 10 years.

If Indonesia’s government fulfills its promise, and releases the world’s first cheap, safe, mass-produced birth control pill for men, it will likely require an endorsement from influential religious figures.

Birth control has been depicted as Western “poison” by fundamentalist Islamic groups in Indonesia. Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global movement to establish an Islamic caliphate, has held conferences to sway Muslim youth from using condoms and birth control pills.

According to the Jakarta Post, speakers at a 2009 gathering announced that birth control is “clearly an attempt at genocide that has been planned carefully by the West.”

It is unclear how Islamic hardliners would react to a homegrown pill. The Iranian government has successfully relied on the Quran to promote birth control by highlighting verses that encourage family planning.

Indonesia’s president and other key politicians are ready to publicly support the gandarusa pill, Sugiri said. “The results look really good,” he said. “If everything goes OK, then we’ll want to start promoting this to other countries.”