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Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates offered inventors $100 000 in start-up grants to develop a “next-generation” of super-sheath condoms through the charitable Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health. It looks like “there are some technological materials that will be able to maintain a [condom] barrier with a very thin, thin material”, Gates said in New Delhi. Gates, who was speaking at a question-and-answer session with his wife Melinda, said the foundation had received a lot of proposals from inventors.

The Seattle-based foundation has given one grant of $100 000 to the University of Manchester to research a condom using a super-light conducive material known as graphene. Another $100 000 grant has gone to the University of Oregon for a proposal to create a polyurethane condom that would create a seal around the penis and be less than half the thickness of the best condoms available now. The foundation’s “Grand Challenges” are aimed at improving the lives of the world’s poorest people. Scientists say they want to achieve a new super-strength thin membrane for a condom to achieve what they call a “barely-there” feel. Men often say they are reluctant to use condoms because they decrease sexual pleasure. The aim would be to encourage more couples to use condoms, preventing pregnancy and helping avert spread of sexually transmitted viruses such as HIV. The foundation has said it could provide further funding of up to $1m to develop a new condom that would “enhance the pleasure so as to increase uptake”. Gates has said first-world investors have little interest in developing medicines to combat such illnesses as malaria and tuberculosis as they are not prevalent in wealthy countries. However, “there could be a market for this [thin condom] among well-off nations, which doesn’t happen with a lot of innovations,” he said.

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