Condoms are the cheapest and most effective method to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV.
If used regularly and correctly, condoms provide an 80 percent reduction in HIV incidence, and only a two percent contraceptive failure rate. No prescription or trip to a healthcare provider is necessary and there are no adverse effects associated with their use.
1.5 billion units are produced annually with an estimated 750 million users and a steadily growing market. Moreover, there are only a few places on earth where condoms are not available or recognized.
So, why does condom advocacy need to be revamped?
The success of the condom, or of any public health tool relies on it being used regularly, and a large number of men refuse to use condoms because they prefer to have sex without one. Women, especially those in high-risk groups like commercial sex workers still have to negotiate condom use.
Likewise, female condoms are also an effective method to deter unplanned pregnancy or HIV infection, but are not widely used. The two deal breakers for many people is the greater expensive of female condoms than male condoms, and the fact that users require insertion training.
What is the solution?
A new class of products called Multi-Purpose Prevention Technologies (MPTs) will provide HIV prevention and contraception like the traditional condom, but may also be more desirable for the user.
These MPTs will include combination vaginal rings, injectable products or new “on demand” products like fast-dissolving vaginal films. These products could potentially transform the market, but are still high risk, and years from being available.
What to do in the meantime?
Currently, researchers at the University of Washington are developing a condom using electrospinning, which produces tightly woven fabric out of nanometer-sized polymer strands, and which could deliver spermicidal or microbicidal agents in addition to acting as a barrier.
The aim of the Gate’s Foundation’s Grand Challenge Exploration is the successful development of a condom which provides protection against HIV, and prevents unplanned pregnancy while also enhancing sexual experience. The winner of the Grand Challenge Exploration will receive $100,000 and an additional $200 million in grants to fund research to fight disease in the developing world.
– Kasey Beduhn