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Bill Gates offers big bucks for better condoms

Blue screen of family planning

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has rolled out a new project: a quest to find better condoms, with up to $1.1m for those who can come up with ideas that are a snug fit for some pressing problems.

The quest for a better condom has become one of the Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health, a in order to address the fact that some blokes don't like to use them. The Grand Challenge spells out their reasons as follows:

“The primary drawback from the male perspective is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a trade-off that many men find unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made just prior to intercourse.”

That attitude is a shame, because condoms are wonderfully cheap, don't need to be prescribed, are easy to distribute, prevent a great many sexually transmitted infections and also make an effective family planning tool. The latter two functions are very helpful in the developing world.

The Grand Challenge wants to get around men's objections with a better condom that, and offers the following suggestions for its configuration:

“We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use. Additional concepts that might increase uptake include attributes that increase ease-of-use for male and female condoms, for example better packaging or designs that are easier to properly apply. In addition, attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired.”

Next-generation johnny ideas can attract $100,000 in – ahem – seed funding if they “have a testable hypothesis, … include an associated plan for how the idea would be tested or validated, and … yield interpretable and unambiguous data”. If ideas pass those tests, they're a chance for Phase II funding of up to $1m.

The Grand Challenge suggests nanotechnology and material science will be the source of the desired innovations.

The Reg suggests any vendor of next-generation condoms could get a rise out of Gates by taking a name he'll remember from his early days in the computer industry: Wang. ®

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