Gates Foundation wants to make safe sex more fun | 

Happy Condoms
Flickr, bnilsen

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation thinks safe sex isn’t as much fun as it should be.

At least, that seems to be the gist of one request for a grant application from the world’s largest philanthropy as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations program. One of the goals for this round is to develop a better condom – and by better they basically mean a condom that doesn’t suck.

“It is a bit unusual,” said Stephen Ward, the program officer with the Gates Foundation administering the project.

In its request for proposals, the foundation opens with a detailed description of the global production of condoms (15 billion units per year), usage (750 million) and a ‘steadily growing market.’ When used properly, the Gates Foundation notes, condoms can protect females from pregnancy and both partners from sexually transmitted infections like HIV. They are cheap, ubiquitous and a great example of a ‘multi-purpose prevention technology.’

“The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use.”

Yeah, they suck. They’re no fun. Continue reading

WHO says to use a condom if you use injectable contraception | 

Flickr, Jaume d'Urgell

Last fall, Seattle scientists issued some problematic findings indicating higher risk for HIV among women using the contraceptive Depo-Provera, a hormone delivered by injection popular in poor countries for its ease of use and reliability.

Today, experts at the World Health Organization, which contends the evidence for this hormone-HIV risk is equivocal, said women should continue to use the hormonal contraceptive method but also use condoms to prevent against HIV.

As a result of this apparently mixed message, we are getting news stories with equivocal headlines or reports heading in quite different directions:

The Guardian HIV warning to women using injectable contraception

PSI WHO upholds guidance on hormonal contraceptives and HIV

IRIN WHO clarifies guidance on hormonal contraception and HIV

So, is that clear? Not really.

Still, one of the Seattle scientists involved in the original study, Jared Baeten at the University of Washington, told IRIN news that he felt the WHO statement struck the right balance:

“I think the [WHO] statement really reflects what was an extremely thoughtful deliberation and detailed evaluation of the evidence,” Baeten said.

“They made a clear statement by issuing a strong clarification and I think that what’s important in the context of delivering family planning service is that we strongly remind women at high risk of HIV that contraception does not protect against HIV and that condoms are the HIV preventative measure.”

NPR: More than a million condoms recalled in South Africa | 

By Scott Hensley / NPR

Denis Farrell / AP

Condoms like this one were given out during the African National Congress party's centenary celebrations in early Now a South African health official says that 1.35 million of them are being recalled amid charges some broke during sex.

The party may be over, but the trouble may just be starting in South Africa.

The health department in Free State province is recalling 1.35 million condoms that may not be up to snuff.

The affected condoms — a government brand called Choice — were distributed early this month as part of the festivities marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the African National Congress.

The ANC, the ruling political party in the country for the past 17 years, is known for its pivotal role in the ending of apartheid and its longtime leader Nelson Mandela’s message of equality.

But quite a few of the “revolutionary rubbers,” as the City Press newspaper called the freebies, reportedly broke during sex. “People would claim that the condoms burst,” AIDS activist Sello Mokhalipi, of the Treatment Action Campaign, told the paper. “When we investigated the complaints it turned out the condoms are porous.”

Continue reading

Queen of England bestows honor on PATH’s gizmo guy | 

Flickr, UK Ministry of Defence

Queen Elizabeth

The Queen of England has bestowed an exalted honor on PATH’s top gizmo guy.

“She said global health was a rather big subject and must involve a lot of travel,” said Michael Free, chief of technology for PATH, who had in fact stopped off in London to be received by the Queen before embarking on a month-long trip of global health travel.

Last week, Free was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his team’s many inventions and innovative approaches aimed at helping solve health problems in the developing world. It’s not quite as prestigious as a Knighthood but better than a sharp poke in the helmet.


Michael Free

One of Free’s inventions was the single-use, auto-disabling syringe — a device now in common use worldwide, here in the U.S. as well, aimed at reducing the transmission of disease through accidental needle sticks.

But Free was also likely honored for his much broader and critical role in helping give birth to PATH in the 1970s.

How this British farm boy, raised in creamy Devonshire, ended up in Seattle working on some of the most innovative solutions to developing world health problems offers insight into the evolution of PATH and, to some extent, the entire field of global health.

“In the beginning, our approach was not well-received by either the public or private sectors,” said Free. “It was a bit out-of-the-box.”

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Signs of regress in the global AIDS fight | 

IRIN, Allan Gichigi

Condom dispenser, Kenya

Okay, this is an incredibly disturbing story that should scare the bejeebers out of everyone.

IRIN News reports, kind of matter-of-factly, that in Kenya “Condom recycling highlights gap in HIV prevention programming.” The story tells about men in rural northern Kenya:

“… washing condoms and hanging them out to dry; the men said the price of condoms meant they could not afford to use them just once. Other men in the village said when they had no access to condoms, they used polythene bags and even cloth rags when having sex.”

Remember when we were celebrating (last week, I think) how many more people with HIV are receiving treatment with anti-AIDS drugs?

If we can get malaria-preventing bed nets out to almost everyone who needs them, how is it we are still failing to make sure everyone has access to something so cheap and basic as a condom?

The Pope says condoms are okay, for prostitutes anyway | 

Flickr, by miqul

Pope Benedict

The world is still all abuzz with reaction to Pope Benedict XVI’s very limited benediction on condoms as a means for some people, like prostitutes, to avoid spreading or getting HIV.

Given how little the Pope actually said here, I can’t even begin to imagine the reaction if he and the Holy See decide to reverse the decision made in 1079 AD by Pope Gregory VII that priests should be celibate.

“There can be single justified cases,” Benedict said, “for example when a prostitute uses a condom, and this can be the first step toward a moralization, a first act of responsibility in developing anew an awareness of the fact that not everything is permissible and that we cannot do everything we want.”

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