If you build a better condom, will the world beat a path to your door?

 

The latest “exploration” competition announced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may turn out to be its biggest yet. It is offering $100,000, with the possibility of up to $1 million, to aid in the development of new and better condoms.

While the announcement has raised some eyebrows and resulted in the expected handful of off color jokes, the issue is a deadly serious one. It is widely agreed among researches that increasing condom use is still one of the best ways to stop the spread of the HIV virus which leads to AIDS.

Officially titled “Grand Challenges in Global Health,” the program has already awarded 800 grants worth more than $100 million. It seeks groundbreaking solutions to some of the world’s largest health challenges: latency in tuberculosis, attempts to eradicate malaria and new vaccines to treat pneumonia and chronic diarrhea to name a few.

The condom project is expected to focus on new materials and shapes that would help overcome complaints of diminished sensation and difficulty of use. But there are social, psychological and cultural barriers to the more widespread use of condoms that this initiative cannot address. Still, Gates is at least willing to step to the plate and use his vast fortune to try.