Buoyed by new data showing malaria rates are falling for the first time in some African nations, philanthropies, international organizations and corporations announced Thursday more than $1.4 billion in private funding toward eradicating the disease over the next seven years.
The unprecedented level of funding comes as global health leaders convened a summit at the U.N. to unveil a Global Malaria Action Plan, the first-ever comprehensive blueprint for eliminating a disease that is the single greatest cause of death for the world's children.
In a dramatic series of announcements, world leaders declared what experts just two years ago considered virtually impossible: They believe the number of malaria deaths can fall from more than 1million annually to zero by 2015. In a world filled with chronic disease, leaders hailed the swift advances as a global health milestone.
Malaria is caused by a parasite and transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. The distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and the spraying of homes and buildings, as well as scientific advances toward developing a vaccine, have contributed to the decline in malaria deaths.
“We are getting closer to containing this scourge,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a morning address to a special session of the General Assembly. “How is this happening? With a path-breaking public-private coalition, solid science, better statistics and precise financing, with the coordination of the right countries and partners, and above all with the leadership.”
The funding commitments announced Thursday include $1.1 billion from the World Bank for a scale-up of the Malaria Booster Program; $168.7 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund research on a new generation of malaria vaccines; $2 million from Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation to deliver insecticide-treated bed nets to more than 630,000 people in African refugee camps; and $100 million from a coalition of corporations, including a $28 million commitment from Houston-based Marathon Oil to extend its malaria prevention program across Equatorial Guinea.
“Now it's time to develop a new generation of vaccines that are even more effective and could someday help eradicate malaria altogether,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates, co-chairman of his foundation, said in a statement.
“If we have the chance to save millions of lives, and a clear plan to make it happen, we have an obligation to act,” Gates added. “We're committed to supporting a range of efforts to make the Action Plan a reality. Today's grant is just the first step.”
Helene Gayle, president of the global humanitarian organization CARE and a former top official at the Gates Foundation, said malaria control is “one of the most hopeful stories right now.”