BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI, September 4: Ever since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved flibanserin, the ‘female libido enhancer” dubbed by the media as ‘female Viagra’ a fortnight ago, Indian sexologists’ phones have not stopped ringing.
The callers are not women wanting to know when the magic pink pill will hit the Indian drug stores. Actually, it is men who are bombarding the doctors with phone calls, wanting to know when the pill will be available in India.
“Evidently, more men are interested in the pill than women!” quips Mumbai-based sexologist Dr Prakash Kothari.
Flibanserin will be marketed under the brand name Addyi by Sprout Pharmaceuticals. Sprout is yet to make an application to the Indian drug control authorities to market the drug in the country. Yet, out of the first 1,00,000 Google searches for ‘Viagra for women,’ the third largest number was from India (Australia and the US took the first two places).
And sexologists say, going by the calls and mails that clog their phones, most of them would be married men.
Why are Indian men so curious about flibanserin, the first ever ‘libido enhancing drug’? “Because they are lazy,” declares Chennai-based sexologist Dr Narayana Reddy. “Most of them who complain about their women being frigid don’t do foreplay or just don’t understand their women enough.”
In the case of Dr Kothari’s patient Akash, this turned out to be true.
The sexologist asked him why he needs the pill. Akash explained: “My wife was not getting turned on when I tried to kiss her.”
Inquiries with his wife revealed something else. “His wife said Akash was not devoting enough time with her. And he didn’t know she couldn’t stand the smell of tobacco when he tries to kiss her,” Dr Kothari revealed.
Dr Reddy says a lot of pink pills—-and the side effects that come with them—-can be saved if men try harder to connect with the women at an emotional level. “The magic word here is `talk’, not `pill’.
It will be October before flibanserin reaches drug stores in the US, and it may take several more months to come to India since Sprout Pharmaceuticals is yet to make an application here. Nevertheless, sexologists and gynaecologists across India are flooded with inquiries. Experts say curiosity must be driving the initial enthusiasm, but caution should be the catchword.
Many doctors are wary of prescribing the drug because it was rejected by FDA twice for its side effects. They say the India government should conduct trials for the drug to understand the required dosage and effectiveness on Indian women, like it did for sildanafil (Viagra) almost 17 years ago.While Viagra improves blood flow to genitals, Addyi plays with women’s brain chemicals.And that, experts caution, doesn’t work well for many women.
“I have seen around 50,000 cases of low sexual desire among women,” says Mumbai’s Dr Kothari. “A majority of them suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, depression or anxiety. Or they have some problems with some organs.The drug may not work on such people, and hence a thorough check-up is needed before flibanserin is prescribed.”
Adds Chennai-based sexologist Dr Narayana Reddy: “Those who qualify for the drug are those with low sexual desire without any apparent physiological reason. A very small segment of people belong to this category.”
The history of the drug – being rejected twice by FDA – makes doctors wary . “There seems to be a lot of controversy around the pill,” says Dr Manika Khanna, a senior doctor at New Delhi-based Gaudium IVF Centre.
“If the FDA itself says there are sideeffects like nausea, drowsiness and low blood pressure, it should not be prescribed to anyone currently on anti-depressants, those suffering from vertigo, hypotension or any sort of brain problem,” cautions Dr Reddy .
For those partying, this could be another dampener: Addyi should not be taken by people who drink. Many people who think of it as a female Viagra may not know these facts, say doctors. “It is important that a complete clinical history of the patient is taken before the drug is prescribed,” says Dr Kothari.
Dr Khanna calls for trials in India. Bengaluru-based gynaecologist Dr Devika Gunasheela agrees. “Trials are compulsory for any new drug before being introduced into the Indian market. The Indian population is genetically very different from the Caucasian population, so our requirements and absorption levels are different. Many medicines react differently on Indians and Americans,” she told The Times of India.
A senior officer at the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation said that the company has not applied for permission to manufacture or distribute Addyi in India.
“When they apply, we will conduct trials. The only time we exempt a drug from clinical trials is during emergencies. Once we receive an application, we might take at least three months to complete the procedure,” he said.