Gates Foundation's next mission: Find a better condom

Condoms in packets lined up in a showroom in Amsterdam. Photo by: Paul Keller / CC BY

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched a new challenge, in a move to promote family planning and avoid the transmission of infections, such as HIV. A primary criterion: a condom that preserves or enhances pleasure.

The idea is aimed at increasing the use of condoms. While the reproductive health product has been seen as effective in avoiding unwanted pregnancies and reducing the risk of HIV infections — with the World Health Organization citing an 80 percent protection against sexually transmitted diseases — a major drawback to its more widespread use, the foundation argues, is the perception that it decreases pleasure.

“The undeniable, and unsurprising, truth is that most men prefer sex without a condom,” Papa Salif Sow and Stephen Ward of the Gates Foundation write in the Impatient Optimists blog. “The potential value of condoms is limited by inconsistent use.”

Advances in several scientific disciplines, however, offer opportunities to advance condom use, the two argue.

Apart from ensuring pleasure, the foundation seeks ideas that would “increase ease-of-use.” This could be through better packaging or product design.

“Attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired,” adds the foundation’s challenge.

The foundation will not fund the testing of commercially available products, ideas that are “too expensive” for low resource settings or those that “would sacrifice the value of condoms for prevention of either unplanned pregnancy or HIV infection,” among others.

The search for the next generation of condom is part of the Grand Challenges Explorations Round 11. The deadline for the submission of proposals is on May 7.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.