UNITED NATIONS — Buoyed by new data showing malaria rates are falling for the first time in some African nations, philanthropies, international organizations and corporations announced last week 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 U.N. summit to unveil a Global Malaria Action Plan, the first 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 1-million annually to zero by 2015. In a world filled with chronic disease, leaders hailed the swift advances as a global health milestone.
"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.
The Gates Foundation grant will help fund research at several Washington area laboratories, investing in multiple scientific projects that it hopes could yield the first approved malaria vaccine.
"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."
The $168.7-million grant to the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative will fund research around the world by accelerating projects that are starting to work while also investing in new ones. PATH, a nonprofit organization, is in negotiations with multiple laboratories in the Washington area to conduct research with the grant money, said Christian Loucq, the group's director.
"If we want to eradicate malaria, we will need a very potent vaccine, and that's what we will do with this money," Loucq said.
Adel Chaouch, Marathon Oil's director for corporate social responsibility, said he hopes the company's investment will further control malaria in Equatorial Guinea, where Marathon is the largest employer.
"The intent is to leverage the successes we've had to date and accelerate the project to have results sooner," Chaouch said.
The World Health Organization released new data suggesting that progress in malaria control has accelerated dramatically in recent years. The African nations of Eritrea, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe reported reductions in malaria deaths by 50 percent between 2000 and 2006, crediting bed-net distribution, indoor spraying and improved access to treatment. Significant declines in malaria deaths were also cited in Madagascar, Zambia and Tanzania, as well as in Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Suriname, Thailand and Vietnam.