• Volume 26, Issue 4

November 2001,   pages  390a-545

• Preface

• Current status of fertility control methods in India

Approximately 48.2% of couples of 15 to 49 years of age practice family planning methods in India. Female sterilization accounts for 34.2%, with male sterilization declining from 3.4% in 1992–93 to 1.9% in 1998–99. Use of the condom increased to 3.1% from 2.4%. There is an urgent need for research to develop new contraceptive modalities especially for men and also for women and to make existing methods more safe, affordable and acceptable. Current efforts in India to develop a male contraceptive are mainly directed towards

1. development of antispermatogenic agents to suppress sperm production,
2. prevention of sperm maturation,
3. prevention of sperm transport through vas deferens or rendering these sperm infertile and
4. prevention of sperm deposition.

Research work in the field of prevention of sperm transport through vas deferens has made significant advances. Styrene maleic anhydride (SMA) disturbed the electrical charge of spermatozoa leading to acrosome rupture and consequent loss in fertilizing ability of sperm. A multicentre phase-III clinical trial using SMA is continuing and it is hoped that the SMA approach would be available in the near future as an indigenously developed injectable intra-vasal male contraceptive.

The safety and efficacy of available oral contraceptives were evaluated. An indigenously developed oral contraceptive Centchorman’, which is a nonsteroidal, weakly estrogenic but potently antiestrogenic, was found to be safe and effective and is now being marketed in India since 1991 as a once a week’ pill. Cyclofem and Mesigyna have been recommended as injectable contraceptives with proper counselling and service delivery by Indian studies. It has been recommended that these injectable contraceptives be added to the existing range of contraceptive methods available in the National Family Planning Programme. Based on the Indian studies CuT 200 was also recommended. Studies have indicated the advantage of intrauterine devices (IUD); they are long acting, relatively easily removed and fertility returns rapidly after their removal. Recent studies have recommended CuT 200 for use up to 5 years. The combination of some plant products i.e. Embelia ribes, Borax and Piper longum has been found to be safe and effective as a female contraceptive and the results of phase-I clinical trials are encouraging.

Research work is going on in the country in various areas with special reference to hormonal contraceptive – a three monthly injectable contraceptive, immuno-contraceptives, antiprogestins, etc.

• Molecular approaches to contraceptive development

The next generation of contraceptives will be based on the identification of novel molecules essential for reproductive processes and will rely on the refinement of older as well as newer technologies. Functional analysis of naturally occurring reproductive genetic disorders and creation of mice null for specific genes would greatly assist in the choice of genetic targets for contraceptive development. Structure-based design of drugs as exemplified by the preparation of an orally active non-peptide gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) would revolutionize drug formulation and delivery for a peptide analogue. This review examines some of the molecular targets that may change contraceptive choices in the future.

• A holistic approach to population control in India

• Is there a role for contraceptive vaccines in fertility control?

• Molecular insights into the causes of male infertility

Infertility is a reproductive health problem that affects many couples in the human population. About 13–18% of couple suffers from it and approximately one-half of all cases can be traced to either partner. Regardless of whether it is primary or secondary infertility, affected couples suffer from enormous emotional and psychological trauma and it can constitute a major life crisis in the social context. Many cases of idiopathic infertility have a genetic or molecular basis. The knowledge of the molecular genetics of male infertility is developing rapidly, new spermatogenic genes” are being discovered and molecular diagnostic approaches (DNA chips) established. This will immensely help diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to alleviate human infertility. The present review provides an overview of the causes of human infertility, particularly the molecular basis of male infertility and its implications for clinical practice.

• Epidemiological profile of India: Historical and contemporary perspectives

Knowledge and understanding of the epidemiological profile is an essential pre-requisite to assess and address public health needs in the country and to enable efficient programme planning and management. The need for adequate and accurate health information and data to undertake such an exercise cannot be over-emphasized. The present effort is a modest attempt to critically analyse the epidemiological profile of India from the historical and contemporary perspective. In order to assess the successes achieved as well caution against the daunting challenges awaiting the country, parameters such as disease burden and health status indicators, are increasingly being used. Changes in the population age structure, improvements in the nation’s economic status, altered lifestyles of people and duality of disease burden testify to the demographic, development and health transition occurring in the country. Population stabilization, poverty alleviation, life-style modification, surveillance and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases constitute the major challenges demanding urgent attention in the future.

• Increasing population and declining biological resources in the context of global change and globalization

In the context of over-consumption of natural resources in the name of development and rapid industrialization by a small section of the human population that is rapidly growing, the world is currently faced with a variety of environmental uncertainties. Global change’ covering a whole variety of ecological issues, and globalization’ in an economic sense, are two major phenomena that are responsible for these uncertainties. There is increasing evidence to suggest that the developing countries more than the developed, particularly the marginalized traditional (those living close to nature and natural resources) societies would be the worst sufferers. In order to cope with this problem in a situation where the traditional societies have to cope with rapidly depleting biodiversity on which they are dependant for their livelihood, there is an urgent need to explore additional pathways for sustainable management of natural resources and societal development. Such pathways should be based on a landscape management strategy, that takes into consideration the rich traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that these societies have. This is critical because TEK is the connecting link between conservation and sustainable development. This paper explores the possibilities in this direction through a balanced approach to development, that links the traditional’ with the modern’, in a location-specific way.

• Nutritional status of the Indian population

High prevalence of low birth weight, high morbidity and mortality in children and poor maternal nutrition of the mother continue to be major nutritional concerns in India. Although nationwide intervention programmes are in operation over two decades, the situation has not changed greatly. In addition, the Indian population is passing through a nutritional transition and is expected to witness higher prevalences of adult non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease according to the theory of `fetal origin of adult disease’. Clearly, there is a need for examining several issues of nutritional significance for effective planning of interventions. In particular, maternal nutrition and fetal growth relationship, long term effects of early life undernutrition, interactions of prenatal nutritional experiences and postnatal undernutrition are some of the major issues that have been discussed in the present paper with the help of prospective data from various community nutrition studies carried out in the department.

• Prehistoric human colonization of India

Human colonization in India encompasses a span of at least half-a-million years and is divided into two broad periods, namely the prehistoric (before the emergence of writing) and the historic (after writing). The prehistoric period is divided into stone, bronze and iron ages. The stone age is further divided into palaeolithic, mesolithic and neolithic periods. As the name suggests, the technology in these periods was primarily based on stone. Economically, the palaeolithic and mesolithic periods represented a nomadic, hunting-gathering way of life, while the neolithic period represented a settled, food-producing way of life. Subsequently copper was introduced as a new material and this period was designated as the chalcolithic period. The invention of agriculture, which took place about 8000 years ago, brought about dramatic changes in the economy, technology and demography of human societies. Human habitat in the hunting-gathering stage was essentially on hilly, rocky and forested regions, which had ample wild plant and animal food resources. The introduction of agriculture saw it shifting to the alluvial plains which had fertile soil and perennial availability of water. Hills and forests, which had so far been areas of attraction, now turned into areas of isolation.

Agriculture led to the emergence of villages and towns and brought with it the division of society into occupational groups. The first urbanization took place during the bronze age in the arid and semi-arid region of northwest India in the valleys of the Indus and the Saraswati rivers, the latter represented by the now dry Ghaggar–Hakra bed. This urbanization is known as the Indus or Harappan civilization which flourished during 3500–1500 B.C. The rest of India during this period was inhabited by neolithic and chalcolithic farmers and mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

With the introduction of iron technology about 3000 years ago, the focus of development shifted eastward into the Indo-Gangetic divide and the Ganga valley. The location of the Mahabharata epic, which is set in the beginning of the first millennium B.C., is the Indo-Gangetic divide and the upper Ganga-Yamuna doab (land between two rivers). Iron technology enabled pioneering farmers to clear the dense and tangled forests of the middle and lower Ganga plains. The focus of development now shifted further eastward to eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar which witnessed the events of the Ramayana epic and rise of the first political entities known as Mahajanapadas as also of Buddhism and Jainism. The second phase of urbanization of India, marked by trade, coinage, script and birth of the first Indian empire, namely Magadha, with its capital at Pataliputra (modern Patna) also took place in this region in the sixth century B.C. The imposition by Brahmin priests of the concepts of racial and ritual purity, pollution, restrictions on sharing of food, endogamy, anuloma (male of upper caste eligible to marry a female of lower caste) and pratiloma (female of upper caste ineligible to marry a male of lower caste) forms of marriage, karma (reaping the fruits of the actions of previous life in the present life), rebirth, varnashrama dharma (four stages of the expected hundred-year life span) and the sixteen sanskaras (ceremonies) on traditional occupational groups led to the birth of the caste system – a unique Indian phenomenon.

As a consequence of the expansion of agriculture and loss of forests and wildlife, stone age hunter-gatherers were forced to assimilate themselves into larger agriculture-based rural and urban societies. However, some of them resisted this new economic mode. To this day they have persisted with their atavistic lifestyle, but have had to supplement their resources by producing craft items or providing entertainment to the rural population.

• Ethnic populations of India as seen from an evolutionary perspective

It is now widely accepted that

1. modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, evolved in Africa,
2. migrated out of Africa and replaced archaic humans in other parts of the world, and
3. one of the first waves of out-of-Africa migration came into India.

India, therefore, served as a major corridor for dispersal of modern humans. By studying variation at DNA level in contemporary human populations of India, we have provided evidence that mitochondrial DNA haplotypes based on RFLPs are strikingly similar across ethnic groups of India, consistent with the hypothesis that a small number of females entered India during the initial process of the peopling of India. We have also provided evidence that there may have been dispersal of humans from India to southeast Asia. In conjunction with haplotype data, nucleotide sequence data of a hypervariable segment (HVS-1) of the mitochondrial genome indicate that the ancestors of the present austro-asiatic tribal populations may have been the most ancient inhabitants of India. Based on Y-chromosomal RFLP and STRP data, we have also been able to trace footprints of human movements from west and central Asia into India.

• # Journal of Biosciences

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