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 5:45 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 4:48 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
updated 7:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
updated 5:26 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
updated 5:54 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
updated 9:16 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT