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Bill Gates makes billion-dollar commitment as first step to ending malaria

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates looks through a microscope during a tour with Britain's Chancellor George Osborne (L) to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool, Britain January 25, 2016. Britain will spend 500 million pounds ($700 million) per year for the next five years to try and end deaths caused by malaria, the government said on Monday, announcing a partnership with Gates worth a total of 3 billion pounds. REUTERS/Dave Thompson/pool (REUTERS)

First Bill Gates brought Windows to the world, now it’s mosquito nets. The Microsoft founder announced this week efforts to team up with the U.K. to funnel more than US$4 billion into the fight to eradicate malaria.

“When it comes to human tragedy, no other animal even comes close to the devastation caused by one insect – the mosquito,” wrote the billionaire in a joint op-ed piece with British chancellor George Osborne in U.K. newspaper The Times. “It transmits diseases that claim more than 700,000 lives each year. The worst of these is malaria. A billion people are infected with malaria parasites, and malaria kills one child every minute.”

Last year alone, 500,000 people were killed by malaria, according to the World Health Organization. Gates has been outspoken about eliminating the disease from the history books and eradicating it within the next couple of years.

“In the world’s poorest places, malaria is both a cause and a consequence of poverty,” they write. “It costs Africa, where poverty is already high, billions of pounds each year in lost productivity, and it accounts for up to 40% of public health expenditure in high-burden countries.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.K. government have been working together for the past two months to establish the $2 billion Ross Fund, a initiative set up to “support the development of vaccines, insecticides, and other efforts to combat malaria and infectious diseases.” The Gates foundation has committed about $405 million for this year alone and plans to keep that up over the next five while the U.K. government will contribute $1 billion a year over the same period.

Dr. Lakshmi Kotra, a member of the International Malaria Research Consortium and director of the Center for Molecular Design and Preformulations at the University Health Network says part of the urgency comes from the fact that current insecticides are starting to lose their efficacy as malaria-carrying mosquitoes build up resistance.

“It’s a major problem – we need new drugs,” Kotra told Yahoo Canada. He says he suspects that a flow of financial aid could cut down the process of manufacturing these drugs by 30 to 40 per cent through creating efficiencies but there are a number of steps – like safety studies and efficacy tests – that can’t be cut out.

Kotra, who has been working in malaria research for the past decade, says that while the funding is a key part of eradication efforts, there’s more to it.

“I might sound cynical but it’s one thing to have the financial resources, it’s another thing to execute the plan,” he says. “Part of the problem is getting these drugs to the people who need them – I don’t think that’s been effectively handled. There is a huge valley between groups like the Bill Gates Foundation and the actual patient where this is happening, in the remote forests or communities (in places like Brazil, Africa or India).”

With that being said, Kotra still says it’s a welcomed boost, both the press coverage surrounding malaria and Gates tireless quest to promote it.

“Malaria has been around too long, we should be able to eradicate, we are smart enough to do it,” says Kotra. “So I come back to that execution thing – it’s a global issue and executing the plan carefully is not trivial.

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