Gates Foundation Gives $168 Million for Malaria Research

September 25, 2003  
The Associated Press
 

Manhica, Mozambique - Microsoft Corp magnate Bill Gates announced Sunday $168 million in funding for malaria research, the largest single donation toward fighting the mosquito-born disease that kills about 1 million people a year, most of them in Africa. 

The announcement was made as Gates and his wife, Melinda,  toured a malaria treatment and research center in the rural village of Manhica, an area hard-hit by the disease about 80 km north of the capital, Maputo.  

"Malaria is robbing Africa of its people and potential," he said. "Beyond the extraordinary human toll, malaria is one of the greatest barriers to Africa's economic growth, draining national health budgets and deepening poverty."  

The funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will come in the form of three research grants: One to search for a vaccine; one for using existing drugs to cut down the number of infections in babies and one for the development of new medicines to combat drug resistant strains of the disease.  

Only AIDS kills more people worldwide. Among children, malaria kills even more than AIDS.  

"Investment in malaria research has fallen far short of the need," said Dr Jong Wook Lee, director-general of the World Health Organization, in a statement released by Gates. "These grants will allow many more researchers to aggressively pursue promising leads for malaria drugs and vaccines, and quickly move research from the lab to the field."  

The money is broken into three groups: $28 million will go toward researching preventative treatment in infants; $40 million was given to the Geneva-based Medicines for Malaria venture to combat the spread of drug resistant malaria through the development of new drugs; And $100 million goes to the US-based Malaria Vaccine Initiative to develop possible vaccines for the disease.  

Up to 80 percent of malaria in parts of the continent has become resistant to Chloroqine, the cheapest standard drug against the disease. Other effective drugs are too expensive for most people in Africa, the poorest continent.  

Malaria is making a deadly comeback with strains of the disease becoming increasingly resistant to treatment.  

Last year, as many as 900 million were sickened by malaria, according to estimates by the US Agency for International Development. Of that number, more than 1 million and as many as 2.7 million by some estimates died. The vast majority were in Africa.  

International efforts to contain or even eradicate the disease have received a boost in recent years with major grants from the US government and from the $4.7 billion five-year UN Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.  

Malaria campaigners say that despite the increased focus, their efforts remain woefully underfunded. Whereas AIDS vaccine research receives $400 million a year, malaria research receives just $60 million.