Bill Gates to offer $124k for 'next-generation' condom

This time, he is not looking for software or the latest high-tech gadget.

Mr Bill Gates, 57, is looking for something more down to earth. The billionaire Microsoft founder has sent out a call to innovators - design the next generation condom "that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure" and promotes "regular use".

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is putting up US$100,000 (S$124,000) for the venture, NBC News reported.

They're cheap, easy to make and not only prevent pregnancy, but also protect against a range of infections, including the Aids virus. But men often don't like to use condoms and women are afraid to ask them to.

"There are few places on earth where condoms are not recognised or not available," the foundation, headed by Mr Gates and his wife Melinda, said in a statement.

Pressure on pleasure

"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.

"Is it possible to develop a product without this stigma, or better, one that is felt to enhance pleasure? If so, would such a product lead to substantial benefits for global health, both in terms of reducing the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and in prevention of infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?"

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 US$1 million in further funding, CNN reported.

The Foundation estimates that 15 billion condoms are made each year, with 750 million users. But the design hasn't changed much from the day when men used lamb intestines to make them. Now, latex is the preferred material.

That second phase of funding could go up to a million dollars.

The Foundation said it will consider applications for new materials, new shapes or designs, or science-based ways to make condoms more enticing to use.

Between 69 and 80 per cent of teens in the US use condoms, but middle-aged adults aren't so careful because they mistakenly think they aren't at risk for contracting STIs, said Ms Sheryl Kingsberg, who specialises in behavioural medicine at University Hospitals' department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Cleveland, told ABC News.

"There are many ways in which the current generation of condom can fail," she said.

"Maybe this is Windows Vista version. We can certainly get to Windows 7, 8 and 9, but we need to encourage people to use it."

The Foundation's Grand Challenges project was set up to kick-start very early-stage endeavours. It has paid out US$450 million to efforts on childhood vaccines, controlling insects that spread diseases and other public health challenges.

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