Malaria Eradication Efforts Receive a Boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A $29 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help focus efforts on eliminating malaria from Asia-Pacific and Southern Africa.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continues to put its money where its mouth is with regard to the global eradication of malaria.

On November 18th, the Foundation announced that it has awarded the Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) at the Global Health Group of the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) a 4-year grant of $29 million. The funds have been earmarked specifically to “accelerate malaria elimination in Asia-Pacific and Southern Africa and advance malaria eradication globally,” according to a release issued by the school.

Since announcing its intention to support efforts to foster malaria eradication in 2007, the Gates Foundation has now invested more than $40 million in MEI. Overall, the Foundation has provided more than $2 billion to various organizations to fight malaria.

“Despite significant gains in malaria control, the disease remains a huge problem globally,” said Sir Richard Feachem, KBE, FREng, DSc(Med), PhD, director, Global Health Group at UCSF in the school statement. “This reinvestment from the Gates Foundation will enable UCSF and our partners to create an engineered future of rapid regional elimination to achieve a world free of malaria within a generation.”

The complete eradication of malaria from our world is no easy task. In its 2015 Malaria Report, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there were still more than 200 million new cases of the disease worldwide last year. More than 400,000 people died of malaria last year alone. Nearly 90% of the cases were in sub-Saharan Africa, and approximately 8% were in the Asia-Pacific region, WHO reports.

Still, progress has been made. Earlier this year, WHO declared Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, and the whole European region malaria-free, and, based on MEI projections, it’s expected that more than 25 countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East will eliminate the disease within 5 years.

MEI works with malaria-affected countries in developing programs to prevent new cases of malaria. These efforts include the introduction of new diagnostic tools, surveillance programs, and vector-control initiatives. The group says the latest Gates Foundation grant funding will be used to continue and expand these programs. The money will also finance research efforts into new (and affordable) vaccines and treatments for malaria as well as activism/lobbying initiatives.

“The Foundation’s generous investment will enable MEI to bring to bear the research, tools, and approaches developed over the past nine years to accelerate progress on the ground and reach critical malaria elimination targets, particularly in Asia-Pacific and Southern Africa,” Roly Gosling, MD, PhD, UCSF associate professor, epidemiology and biostatistics, UCSF and a principal investigator at MEI said in the school release.

Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.