The world's richest man is donating nearly $170 million to help find a cure and a vaccine for malaria. Microsoft Chief Executive Bill Gates announced the grant in a research center in rural Mozambique.
It is believed to be the most money ever donated to malaria research. Microsoft CEO and multi-billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda announced that their charitable foundation is giving three grants totaling $168 million to researchers working to find a way to stop malaria.
The disease kills more than a million people worldwide every year, and the vast majority of its victims are children in Africa.
Bill Gates said the developing world needs more effective and cheaper malaria drugs. "We need drugs that are very inexpensive. The difference of a few dollars in cost can make all the difference, in terms of accessibility to the children in Asia and the children here in Africa," Mr. Gates said.
Part of the donation, $40 million, will go to a Swiss foundation that works to develop affordable new medicines to treat drug-resistant malaria.
Another $100 million goes to the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which is working to develop a vaccine that can end the epidemic entirely.
The Manhica Health Research Center, where the grant was announced, is holding the world's most advanced clinical trials on a possible malaria vaccine, and the grant is designed to get more vaccine candidates into the pipeline.
The final $28 million goes toward research on an innovative new treatment that could drastically reduce the number of children killed by malaria each year before a vaccine is found.
Known as Intermittent Preventive Treatment, it involves giving infants three doses of a common anti-malarial drug during their first year of life. The first time it was tried, in Tanzania, the therapy cut the number of malaria cases in half. The Manhica Health Research Center recently started a new trial designed to find out if it will work there, as well.
Mozambican Prime Minister Pascal Mocumbi said his government has made the fight against malaria a priority, but there is still a long way to go. He said, "all our efforts to fight malaria are small, when you take account of the fact that malaria is the number-one killer of children here, and has now become the number-two cause of death in adults." He said it is a situation that requires more action.
The $168 million donation represents a dramatic influx of money for malaria research. Only about $100 million per year is spent on researching ways to fight the disease, and about the same amount on prevention and treatment.
Compare that to what malaria costs the African continent every year, an estimated $12 billion in lost production. The disease consumes roughly 40 percent of public health spending in Africa.
The new grants will fund the three initiatives during the next four years.
But for some of the projects, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is urging the grantees to use the money as quickly as possible to try to make a difference soon.