The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Exploration initiative has announced a new opportunity: Develop the Next Generation of Condom. As their Grand Challenges in Global Health website explains, the grant is intended to foster innovation in global health research. The foundation also looks to expand the pipeline of ideas to fight against the great health challenges of our time by encouraging and funding scientists worldwide.
In their call for proposals the foundation states, "We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use." Ideas that will increase the ease-of-use aspect of the condoms, such as better packaging, are encouraged, as are ideas that address and overcome cultural barriers to condom use.
Culturally, people still struggle with condom use. Last year the BBC asked the question, "Why are we still embarrassed about using condoms?" and noted that according to Family Planning Association figures, "61% of people find talking about condoms with a new sexual partner a difficult conversation to have. Of those, 70% find it embarrassing and 36% say it makes them less likely to use a condom." Even the women on Lena Dunham's HBO show Girls don't seem interested in using them anymore. Better sex education is seen by many health professionals as an important step in addressing this problem.
Also: we really need a better female condom. Female condoms continue to be used at incredibly low rates, can be hard to find and are often more expensive than male condoms. At the same time, female condoms can be an important tool in addressing HIV prevention, as illustrated by one study in Washington D.C., and have the potential to empower women in their sexual health.
When Melinda Gates decided to make birth control a primary issue of foundation funding not everyone was pleased. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has received some backlash from the enormous amounts of funding they have poured into global health funding and the impact this may be having on government funding, particularly in the realm of education.
This marks the 11th round of Grand Challenges Exploration. In 2005, a call was put out for proposals for new technologies in contraception as well.