Claiming that free use of pill could result in an AIDS epidemic, the Japan's Health and Welfare Ministry has left in place a ban on oral contraceptives. Rumors had circulated that the ministry would at last authorize manufacture and importation of the pill this summer, but a ministry advisory panel, the Central Pharmaceutical Affairs Council, concluded that the ban should continue from "the viewpoint of public hygiene." According to the AIDS Surveillance Committee, the number of HIV-infected people reached 238 last year, more than double the number of cases in 1990. Over 1/2 of the cases were women infected through heterosexual contact. The ministry used these figures to justify the ban, noting that approval of the pill would reduce the use of condoms, the most popular contraceptive in Japan. Not everyone agrees with the ministry's rationale. An obstetrician and gynecologist who works for a voluntary AIDS hotline argues that the government should not decide what contraceptives people may use, adding that the ministry's desire to increase the birth rate probably influenced the decision to keep the ban in place. On several occasions the ministry has come close to approving oral contraceptives, but each time it has decided against it. In 1965, the ministry refused to approve the pill on grounds of public morality. In 1986, a medical panel formed by the ministry evaluated the safety of low dose oral contraceptives and approved them for use, but the ministry never acted on the panel's recommendation. According to a physician from the Japan Family Planning Association, over 90% of his clients want oral contraceptives. The association plans to respond to the ministry's ruling.