A new report, the first comprehensive analysis of malaria research funding, was released on Sunday as the field’s biggest private donor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced $258.3 million in new grants to accelerate the development of new drugs, a vaccine and better mosquito control methods.
“It’s a disgrace that the world has allowed malaria deaths to double in the last 20 years, when so much more could be done to stop the disease,” Bill Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation, said.
Efforts to develop better malaria control tools have gained new urgency as drug resistance has rendered the cheapest and most widely-used antimalarial drugs useless in many parts of Africa.
New combination treatments for malaria are very effective, but have remained out of reach for millions of Africans due to supply shortages and the relatively high cost of the drugs.
“It’s really a tragedy that the world has done so little to stop this disease that kills 2000 African children every day,” said Microsoft Corporation chief Bill Gates.
“If those children were in rich countries, we would have headlines, we’d take action. We wouldn’t rest until every child was protected,” Gates added.
Malaria causes an estimated 500 million bouts of illness a year, kills an African child every 30 seconds and costs an estimated $12 billion a year in lost gross domestic product.
“The report confirms what has been clear, and that is that the world isn’t investing nearly enough in malaria R&D,” Gates said.
The analysis, conducted by a group of malaria research and development organisations, found that total spending on research and development for the disease amounted to $323 million last year.
That represents about 0.3% of total health research and development investments, the report said.
“If those children were in rich countries, we would have headlines, we’d take action. We wouldn’t rest until every child was protected”
However, malaria is responsible for 3% of all the lost years of productive life caused by all diseases worldwide, the report found.
Lost years of productive life is a standard measurement of a disease’s impact on society.
By contrast, diabetes gets about 1.6% of the total money spent on medical research, while it accounts for 1.1% of all the productive years of life lost to disease.
In other words, the disease burden to society is about one-third of that of malaria, but it gets nearly six times more money in research and development funding.
The latest Gates Foundation contribution will target three main areas and will be distributed as follows:
Vaccination – half of equation
An early study in Mozambique last year found that the vaccine offered partial protection for young children, cutting their risk of severe malaria by 58%.
“A vaccine is our best long-term hope to defeat malaria, and even a partially-effective vaccine would be a huge step forward,” said Dr Melinda Moree, director of MVI. “We’re advancing this vaccine through final testing in the hope that it will be available to save lives as soon as possible.”
Vaccinations could decrease the
Dr JP Garnier, CEO of GSK, which is collaborating with both MVI and MMV. “We hope other companies join this cause. But cutting-edge science is only half of the equation.
“International cooperation will be essential in order to ensure that these vaccines and treatments reach the millions who need them.”
Even if the vaccine does not prevent infection, it could save many lives if it proves to lessen the severity of the disease.
Projects include several combination pills that will cure malaria with a simpler course of just one pill a day for three days, costs about $1 and a cherry-flavoured pill for children that rapidly dissolves in water.
Using existing tools
A fully-funded malaria control effort – which could cut malaria deaths in half by 2010 – will cost an estimated $3.2 billion annually, but only a fraction of this amount is being spent per year.
“As we step up malaria research, it’s also critically important to save lives today with existing tools,” Bill Gates said. “Bed nets cost just a few dollars each, but only a small fraction of African children sleep under one.”