Skip to main content

Gates wants geeks to build a better condom

By Lennart Bourin, CNN
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Tue March 26, 2013
Microsoft co-founder turned global philanthropist Bill Gates is offering a grant to design a better condom to combat AIDS.
Microsoft co-founder turned global philanthropist Bill Gates is offering a grant to design a better condom to combat AIDS.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issues $100,000 challenge
  • Condoms widely available; goal is to create one that people will actually want to use
  • AIDS continues to grow in Africa and in U.S. minority communities
  • New design would not need extensive clinical testing, foundation says

(CNN) -- Bill Gates is putting out a call to inventors, but he's not looking for software, or the latest high-tech gadget. This time he's in search of a better condom.

On its Grand Challenges website, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is offering a $100,000 startup grant to the person who designs "the next generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure" and promotes "regular use."

It may sound like the setup for a joke, but the goal is deadly serious. While researchers call condoms one of the best ways to stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, getting people to use them is another story.

The foundation wants to see something that will lead men and women outside of a committed relationship to stop and think twice before having unprotected sex. The startup grant could lead to $1 million in further funding.

"Male condoms are cheap, easy to manufacture, easy to distribute, and available globally, including in resource-poor settings, through numerous well-developed distribution channels," the foundation says. Nevertheless, many people are reluctant to use them because they complain that prophylactics interfere with pleasure and intimacy. This creates "a trade-off that many men find unacceptable," the foundation notes.

Contraception, by the numbers

Does condom use ad promote adultery?
Gates: More kids should learn to program

In some places and cultures, condom use is often seen as a sign that a man has AIDS, and many women won't sleep with such men. Female condoms are even more difficult to use and women are often afraid to suggest using them.

"Any advance or new design that gets people to use condoms would be a big plus," Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the world's leading AIDS researchers, said in an interview with CNN. He says great strides have been made in treating HIV infection in Africa, but for every person who is treated two more become newly infected.

The numbers are indeed startling: 34 million people in the world are living with HIV, according the 2012 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report. About half of them don't know they're infected, according to Fauci.

That problem exists in the U.S. as well, particularly in minority communities.

"Although African-Americans comprise 12% of the population, they account for 45% of all new HIV infections nationwide and 65% of all new infections among women," Fauci said previously. "A substantial portion of newly infected African-Americans are bisexual and homosexual men."

The Gates Foundation hopes that "new concept designs with new materials can be prototyped and tested quickly."

"Large-scale human clinical trials are not required," it adds. "Manufacturing capacity, marketing, and distribution channels are already in place."

But building a better condom may not be as easy as it seems. Some sources say the first recorded use of a condom-like sheath was in Egypt in 1350 B.C., and people have been complaining about it -- and trying to improve on it -- ever since.

Condom sense: Designing the New York City condom

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:43 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
For the first time in 24 years, Germany has lifted the World Cup after beating Argentina 1-0 in extra time.
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Do you know your gurkentruppe from your bananenflanken? CNN helps.
updated 7:29 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Police moved in just one hour before Rui Chenggang was due to appear on air, leaving his anchor chair empty.
updated 5:27 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
A salvage team will attempt to float the ill-fated Costa Concordia again. CNN's Erin McLaughlin reports.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Sun July 13, 2014
Tichleman 1
A makeup artist, writer and model who loves monkeys and struggles with demons.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Why are Iraqi politicians dragging their feet while ISIS militants fortify their foothold across the country?
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
An elephant, who was chained for 50 years, cries tears of joy after being freed in India. CNN's Sumnima Udas reports.
updated 12:34 PM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
People walk with their luggage at the Maiquetia international airport that serves Caracas on July 3, 2014. A survey by pollster Datanalisis revealed that 25% of the population surveyed (end of May) has at least one family member or friend who has emigrated from the country. AFP PHOTO/Leo RAMIREZ (Photo credit should read LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Plane passengers are used to paying additional fees, but one airport in Venezuela is now charging for the ultimate hidden extra -- air.
updated 3:32 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Beneath a dusty town in northeastern Pakistan, CNN explores a cold labyrinth of hidden tunnels that was once a safe haven for militants.
updated 12:44 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
CNN's Ben Wedeman visits the Yazji family and finds out what it's like living life in the middle of conflict.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT