Scarcity of jobs, as well as the growing level of unemployment in Nigeria has been tied to the snail-pace of economic development not keeping up with faster growing rate of population. Estimates, suggest Nigeria's population would hover around 350 million to 500 million by 2050, which warrants the economy to pull off a miracle of attracting trillions of dollars in the same timescale to be able to provide infrastructure and industries to meet the demand of that population size.It was against this background that the Finance Minister of Nigeria, Zainab Ahmed, had summoned the courage against obvious backlash from conservative groups to call on a workable blueprint of streamlining Nigeria's population to keep pace with the national income levels under her watch.
"We have been engaging traditional rulers and other leaders. Specifically, we have found out that to be able to address one of the great challenges that we identified in the ERGP, which is the growth in our population, we need to engage these institutions." She mused.
“And we hope that with their support, we will get to a point where we can come out with the policy that limits the number of children that a mother can have because that is important for sustaining our growth.”
As expected, this remark elicited massive blowback from tribal groups which prompted Ms Ahmed to quickly walk back a few positions and kept the record straight when she wrote on Twitter that "the federal government had been engaging critical stakeholders like traditional and religious leaders to advise their members on child spacing.
“We never said we are placing a cap on childbirth. What is child spacing? This is a healthy practice of waiting between pregnancies."
The talk was particularly combustible for suggesting birth control would be along the lines of limiting the number of children women could have ,which would see northern men (with multiple wives) , having a greater population rate, than their southern counterparts with a regional average of one woman. Because population size in Nigeria, determines resource allocation and political strength of a state, this move took a life of its own as conspiracy theories were rife about a systemic plan to cut down the population of a certain region.
Peddlers of such mongering had gone on to ask Federal Government to check population rate by limiting the number of children a man (not woman) could have to ensure an equitable distribution. That method would require male contraceptive technologies that were not available as at October 2018 when the birth control brouhaha dominated the media landscape, but things have changed as the world's first male contraceptive is ready for production and would be available in 7 months time.
The govt of India announced that the country has developed the world's first male contraceptive that would be injected under local anaesthesia in the sperm-containing tube near the testicles (vas deferens) by a registered medical professional. Mr Sharma who made the announcement said "The polymer was developed by Prof SK Guha from the Indian Institute of Technology in the 1970s. ICMR has been researching on it to turn it into a product for mass use since 1984, and the final product is ready after exhaustive trials."
The contraceptive which is made up of a compound called Styrene Maleic Anhydride, is called a reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG), and had been tested on animals to work towards inhibiting the efficacy of a man's load. Professor SK Guha said this about the nature of the blanks-shooting sperm ,"It is effective for at least 13 years once injected. In clinical studies on mice, it has been proven to be a reliable spacing method, and we will be initiating human studies soon to prove that in humans also, it can be used as an effective spacing method."
The drug controller general of India, an equivalent of Nigeria's NAFDAC chief said "It’s the first in the world from India so we have to be extra careful about approval. We are looking at all aspects, especially the good manufacturing practice (GMP) certification that won’t raise any questions about its quality."
On when it could possibly be ready to use , “I’d say it will still take about six to seven months for all the approvals to be granted before the product can be manufactured." The manufacture, sale and distribution of new medical innovation in India requires approval from DCGI, which conducts its own checks before clearing it, according to Hindustan Times.
In addition, Dr RS Sharma, senior scientist with ICMR, who has been spearheading the trials said "The product is ready, with only regulatory approvals pending with the Drugs Controller. The trials are over, including extended, phase 3 clinical trials for which 303 candidates were recruited with 97.3% success rate and no reported side-effects. The product can safely be called the world’s first male contraceptive."
In the past, men who had wanted to control their birth had opted for the permanent impotency route of vasectomy which involves the surgical cutting and sealing of part of each vas deferens (testicles) for irreversible sterilization. The head of urology and renal transplant in Indian Safdarjung Hospital, Dr Anup Kumar mused on the benefits of this male contraceptive "Non-surgical procedures are always preferred over surgical procedures because they will be safer and less invasive. More men are likely to opt for it."
India and China's Population Growth
The United Nations (UN) Population Division suggests that by 2024, India would overtake China to become the world's most populated country, which is even in the face of declining fertility rates where children per woman fell from 6 to 2.4 over the last decade. In India, 53.5% of couples use some method of contraception or spacing methods, with permanent methods like sterilisation being the most popular. Around 36% of women opt for sterilisation as compared to 0.3% men going for vasectomy.
Birth Control in Nigeria
Only 15% of women use contraception between the ages of 15-49 in a Nigeria where 85% of women and 95% of men reported being aware of the various contraceptive method. Birth control has been very successful in educated countries in the Middle East who use implants, but because only 17.9% of Nigerian men and 24.7% women know about implants, it is hardly used.
Implants which involves inserting an object in a part of the woman's body like her leg or arm, would stop an inserted woman from getting pregnant in 3 to 5 years even with a man having unprotected sex everyday for that duration with her.
The success rate of 99% in Nigeria makes it even troubling that just fewer women are made aware of the non-invasive procedure. Other methods of preventing pregnancy are female sterilisation, male sterilisation, the pill, the intrauterine device (IUD), injectables, male condoms, female condoms, the diaphragm, foam/jelly, the lactational amenorrhea method, and traditional methods include withdrawal and the good old abstinence.
Male contraception [that is reversible] is one method experts have always touted would be more successful and acceptable by men to control population growth of low income countries, in a time when available and future income would not be able to keep up with expanding population. Nigeria and India with abnormal share of their people living in poverty, could see this new male contraceptive as a breath of fresh air for reducing poverty since what resources they can amass is not a phenomenon that could be easily controlled like the number of people who would be needing those resources in the future.