Condoms prevent the spread of disease and, of course, unwanted pregnancy. Globally, more than 5 billion are sold each year, but is there still room for improvement?

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A new condom design attacks the HIV virus and increases pleasure.

Today is World AIDS Day. Since 1988, the 1st of December has been dedicated to raising awareness, fighting stigma and commemorating those lost to the disease.

World AIDS Day was the first global health day, and each year since 1995, the president of the United States has made an official proclamation.

By the end of 2012, there were 3.5 million people living with HIV globally and an estimated 2.3 million new HIV infections.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst hit by the epidemic. In some countries, 20% of the population are infected. However, nowadays, Central Asia and Eastern Europe are experiencing the fastest spread of the disease.

On a positive note, since 2001, new infections have fallen by 33% and the number of children newly infected by HIV has dropped by 52%.

The battle is clearly not over. Science is dedicated to discovering better treatment, more effective prevention and, eventually, the cure for this most pervasive and destructive disease.

Mahua Choudhury, PhD, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, is part of this push.

Chowdhury has come up with an ingenious and revolutionary design for a new condom. Rather than latex, which many people are either allergic to or simply dislike, she plans to use a hydrogel infused with plant-based antioxidants.

The hydrogel in question is a strong, elastic polymer that consists predominantly of water. It is already used in contact lenses, so the challenge of safety testing is at least partially removed.

What makes this condom particularly special is the addition of a plant-based antioxidant. This compound has been found to have anti-AIDS properties. If this innovative condom breaks, the antioxidant is released and prevents the virus from replicating.

But the innovation does not end there. These particular antioxidants – flavonoids – are also predicted to heighten sexual enjoyment.

Flavonoid antioxidants are found in many fruits, vegetables, leaves and grains. Some types of flavonoids, like quercetin, are already available in supplement form.

These flavonoid antioxidants can enhance feelings of pleasure by promoting the relaxation of smooth muscle and raising arterial blood flow. Thirdly, flavonoids help keep nitric oxide levels elevated, which work to stimulate and maintain erection.

Chowdhury’s mission was to create a condom that would not only be an effective AIDS barrier, but also something that people would actually want to use. She says:

If you can make it really affordable, and really appealing, it could be a life-saving thing.”

Funding will come from the Grand Challenge in Global Health award courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The award was set up to fund individuals working to solve pressing global health challenges.

The competition this year was focused on finding an extremely low-cost, latex-free condom. Choudhury was one of 54 applicants selected out of 1,700 to receive the funding.

The condom is not yet ready for market – extra testing is needed – but the product is well underway. “We are trying to find how fast the enmeshed antioxidant can release, and we don’t know if it will automatically release, or if you have to apply pressure,” Chowdhury says.

Over the next 6 months or so, the final testing will have been completed. The potential benefits of a condom that people actively want to wear and that protects against AIDS with a double-edged attack are obvious.

Medical News Today recently covered research that showed condom use is higher in young HIV-positive women with gender-equal views.