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Gates Foundation offers $100k for better condom

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is offering a $100,000 grant to whomever can come up with a way to improve a life-saving medical device that's been around for some 400 years: the condom.

The money to develop "the next generation of condom" is among a series of awards the philanthropic foundation is offering in its latest round of "Grand Challenges Explorations" grants. The grants are designed to encourage scientists to come up with "bold" ideas to fight some of the world's greatest health challenges.

"We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use," the Gates Foundation said.

Two Gates Foundation program officers, Papa Salif Sow and Stephen Ward, explained the need for a better condom in a recent blog post:

"It may seem obvious, but the success and impact of any public health tool hinges on that tool being used consistently and correctly by those who need it. Vaccines sitting on shelves don’t prevent disease. New tuberculosis drug regimens won't help if patients stop taking them halfway through the necessary days. Likewise, the potential value of condoms is limited by inconsistent use."

The researchers said women, particularly those in the sex trade, often face difficulties negotiating condom use, while most men prefer sex without a condom.

"We have a product that is safe and effective, but underutilized. What if we could develop a condom that would provide all the benefit of our current versions, without the drawbacks? Even better, what if we could develop one that was preferred to no condom?" they wrote.

In many African countries, health officials have been waging public campaigns to encourage condom use as a way to cut down on the high rate of HIV infection and AIDS. In Kenya, one such campaign this week ran into problems: A TV advertisement promoting condom use was withdrawn after Christian and Muslim clerics complained it encouraged infidelity, according to a BBC report.

The Gates Foundation said the next-generation condom should be a product that "significantly preserves or enhances pleasure," in order to improve its chances of being used regularly.

"Additional concepts that might increase uptake include attributes that increase ease-of-use for male and female condoms, for example better packaging or designs that are easier to properly apply. In addition, attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired," it said.

Anyone can apply for the Gates Foundation condom grant. Successful projects are eligible to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.

Andrew Bass

If you don't give up on a goal it becomes a torch strong enough to burn through all obstacles.

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