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Gates Foundation Wants New Condoms

Bill Gates is asking investors and scientists to develop a new gadget—an improved condom.

It may seem like a job for Trojan, but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants new condoms. The unique request is part of its “Grand Challenges in Global Health” initiative. The program awards grants of $100,000 and follow-up grants of as much as $1 million to individuals who develop solutions to global health issues. The latest report details successful recipients combating malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis.

According to the Grand Challenges website, “Condoms have been in use for about 400 years yet they have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years.” The only major improvements include the switch to latex and quality control measures to test each individual condom during production. Both of these measures increased the effectiveness of condoms, but the basic design of condoms has yet to transform.

Condoms are the most ubiquitous defense against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. This undervalued resource is a lifesaver in developing countries.  Condoms should be necessary for sexual health, but many men and women shy away from using them due to discomfort, societal stigmas, and reduced sensation. Some cultures perceive condom use as a sign that the person has AIDS.

The Gates Foundation hopes to eliminate these concerns so more people will use condoms regularly. The challenge seeks to make prophylactics more user friendly. “If we could make something better, we could have a really substantial effect on HIV prevention and unintended pregnancy in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” said Stephen Ward, a program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The program is limited to condoms rather than multi-purpose prevention devices (such as vaginal rings) because these programs are not readily available worldwide. The condom is still simple enough that it can be distributed at a low cost. Not to mention, condoms are useful even in communities that lack health care professionals.  “Any advance or new design that gets people to use condoms would be a big plus,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s leading AIDS researchers.

Applicants must complete a two-page application by May 7. Two frontrunners have already emerged. Origami, a California company, focused on usability and comfort. They are creating a new silicone injection-molded condom.  University of Washington researchers look to increase the effectiveness of anti-HIV drugs.  Their model features electrically spun fabric that allows sperm-blocking drugs to dissolve more quickly.

Whitney M. Wyszynski
Source: Co.Exist
Photo: CNET

New Pope, New Take on Contraceptives?The beginning of this March is an important time for the Catholic Church, as Pope Benedict XVI resigns from the papacy. With the seat of St. Peter empty, what global issues will the new Pope face?

Catholics and non-Catholics alike realize that the Pope and his decisions have an influence in many areas throughout the world. The next Pope, whoever that will be, is going to inherit the Church in a time of crisis. While there is a myriad of problems to be dealt with within the Church, one issue related to international poverty will be at the forefront: the use of birth control.

Pope Benedict famously stirred up no small bit of controversy in the international aid community back in 2009 when he claimed that the use of condoms does nothing to prevent the spread of HIV and that the availability of condoms actually makes the problem worse. Around the same time, the Pope offered a rare example in which the use of condoms would be acceptable in the case of a male prostitute using one. Such comments brought about different feelings about where the Church would be going with the issue; would it stay conservative or consider altering its’ stance on condoms?

The next Pope will have an opportunity to make his own statements about birth-control and perhaps his stance may be slightly more accepting than his predecessors. It would be irrational to expect the Catholic Church to reverse its position on the issue of birth control, but it is also important to remember the relationship between overpopulation and poverty. Even the smallest bit of change could make a difference for millions and hopefully, it will start to come about with the new Pope.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: The Guardian