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 1:08 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
The possibility of pockets of air remaining within the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry offers hope to rescuers -- and relatives -- say experts.
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Despite hundreds still missing after the sinking of a South Korean ferry, reports of text messages keep hope alive that there may be survivors yet.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
It's hard not to be nervous, standing outside the Ebola isolation wards.
updated 5:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Russia's propaganda worse now than at height of Cold War, says Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI.
Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said.
updated 12:40 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
A lack of progress in the search for MH370 is angering the families of victims.
updated 5:16 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The searches for the Titanic and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 share common techniques.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 11:35 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
This year's Pyongyang marathon was open to foreign amateurs.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Suisse's Belinda Bencic returns the ball to France's Alize Cornet during the second match of the Fed Cup first round tennis tie France vs Switzerland on February 8, 2014 at the Pierre de Coubertin stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
It's no easy matter becoming a world class tennis player. It's even harder when everyone (really -- everyone) is calling you the "new Martina Hingis".
updated 5:26 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT