Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates last night gave $258m (£145m) to the fight against malaria, branding the rich world's efforts in tackling the disease "a disgrace".
The grant is equivalent to more than three-quarters of global spending on research into the disease last year, according to a report published simultaneously by the Malaria Research and Development Alliance. Malaria causes an estimated 500m bouts of illness a year, kills an African child every 30 seconds, and costs an estimated $12bn a year in lost income.
But the MRDA report stated that global spending on malaria research last year totalled just $323m, about a tenth of the funding that would be needed to match its 3% share of the global disease burden.
Mr Gates said that the world had failed to fight the "all-out war" on the disease. "For too long malaria has been a forgotten epidemic," he said. "It's a disgrace that the world has allowed malaria deaths to double in the last 20 years, when so much more could have been done to stop the disease.
"Millions of children have died from malaria because they were not protected by an insecticide-treated bed net or did not receive effective treatment. If we can expand malaria control programmes and invest what is needed in research and development we can stop this tragedy."
Trials of a vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the Gates-supported Malaria Vaccine Initiative have been encouraging. Results from Mozambique last year suggested vaccinated children between the ages of one and four were 30% less likely to need treatment for serious malaria and nearly 60% less likely to suffer potentially fatal episodes. Now plans are under way to widen the trials.
The new funds donated by Gates include a further $107m to the MVI. Its director, Melinda Moree, said: "We are advancing this vaccine through final testing in the hope it will be available to save lives as soon as possible." The vaccine may go to drug safety regulators in 2010 and be available for use the following year.
A further $100m is being given to the Medicines for Malaria Venture, a Geneva-based non-profit organisation, to accelerate research on cheap and effective low-cost anti-malarial drugs. The remaining $50.7m goes to a consortium of research bodies led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to improve insecticides, bed nets and other protective materials.