Condoms are recognized and used by an estimated 750 million people across the world and reduce both unwanted pregnancy and the spread of sexually-transmitted infections. However, unlike most other technologies, they haven’t changed much in the last half-century. So isn’t it about time for something new?
Yes, says the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is offering $100,000 of initial funding with up to $1 million of possible continued funding to whoever designs the “next generation of condoms.” What might such a futuristic prophylactic look like?
“The primary drawback from the male perspective is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom,” says the Foundation’s description of the challenge. So a “next-generation” condom would, perhaps, find some way to increase sensation as to get men to wear them more often — purely in the name of global health, of course.
Female condoms, meanwhile, “suffer from some of the same liabilities as male condoms, require proper insertion training and are substantially more expensive than their male counterparts,” says the Foundation. So a cheaper, simpler female condom might also help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and spread of STIs, including HIV/AIDS.
Got an idea for building a better condom? Proposals sent to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation must have a “testable hypothesis, include an associated plan for how the idea would be tested or validated and yield interpretable and unambiguous data” to receive continued funding toward development. Ideas that prove too expensive for widespread use in the developing world, or those that don’t do the job of preventing pregnancy or disease transmission will be dismissed right off the bat.
The next-generation condom challenge is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Grand Challenges Explorations,” a continuing initiative to fund programs geared toward improving the lot of the world’s poorest citizens.
“To overcome persistent health and development problems, we need new, game-changing ideas,” said Chris Wilson, Director of Global Health Discovery & Translational Science at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a statement. “Inspiration can come from anywhere and we are hopeful that this new round of Grand Challenges Explorations will uncover innovative approaches to improve lives around the world.”
Ideas for a better condom and other global health innovations are being accepted at GrandChallenges.org. How would you build a better condom? Share your thoughts in the comments.