A male contraceptive pill is on the horizon following the development of a birth control drug that’s 99 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy in mice.

Although there are contraceptives for men and women, it is often assumed that the burden lies with the latter. From pills, injections, coil, rings, patches, caps, condoms to tubal ligation, there are many female contraceptive options.

Sexually active men only have access to single-use condoms, largely irreversible vasectomies and the dubious ‘withdrawal’ or pull-out method.

Vasectomies are surgical procedures that can be reversed but are considered a permanent form of male sterilisation.

A team of researchers have, however, made a breakthrough in the long hunt for a male pill that was found to be 99 per cent effective in mice, with no observable side effects. The oral drug is expected to enter human trials by the year end.

The researchers say it’s a step forward in expanding male contraceptive options and bringing balance to the contraceptive burden on women. The research presented at the American Chemical Society (ACS) recently lays the ground for clinical trials to see if the contraceptive is effective in human males.

“We still don’t have an approved pill for males in the market, but this alone is a clear sign that there is a likelihood of having many options for men,” said Dr Abdullah Al Noman in a statement.

He said several compounds were undergoing clinical trials, but the researchers targeted the male sex hormone testosterone, which could cause weight gain, depression and other side effects.

The symptoms are normally experienced by women while using the hormonal pill, but since they can easily become pregnant in the absence of contraception, the risk calculation differs.

“We wanted to develop a non-hormonal male contraceptive to avoid these side effects,” Dr Norman said.

The researchers monitored weight, appetite, and overall activity, finding no apparent adverse impacts, although mice of course can't report side effects like headaches or mood changes.

Four to six weeks after they were taken off the drug, the mice could once more sire pups. “I'm optimistic this will move forward quickly,” said Dr Noman, envisaging a possible timeline to market in five years or under.

The study was developed by funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Male Contraceptive Initiative, together with YourChoice Therapeutics.

But, are men ready to take the pill? Whose responsibility will it be to have them take up the method? Is it the wives or the government?

Calvin Mompati told SunHealth that as long there are no side effects, he was ready to take the pill. “There are things that were made for women, but we are coming in to help. I do not have to struggle,” he said.

Otsetswe Mngoni, a Francistown resident, added: “What my wife has gone through in the name of family planning methods is a story I would rather not talk about. If there is a way I can help by taking the pill, I am ready.”

The search for a male contraceptive is not a new thing. About 25 years ago, Prof Satyandra Gupta from the Indian Institute of Technology developed styrene-maleic anhydride, the polymer used in the current contraceptive, but it was discarded after many developed side effects, including mood swings and acne.