Wiping out malaria is their goal

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.”