American billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates warned on Wednesday against a resurgence of malaria, for lack of a political will to definitively eradicate the disease.
Malaria-related mortality has been declining since 2000 before climbing again in 2016 due to stagnant efforts to combat this deadly disease.
“This regression in 2016 with a rising number of cases should serve as an alert,” said the Microsoft co-founder at a summit on malaria in London. “The funding (of research) must be long-term and we must be smarter in the fight against this disease,” Gates added.
More than 445,000 people died of malaria in 2016, mostly children under five and pregnant women. A child dies every two minutes of the disease. A total of 216 million people contracted the disease that year, 90% of them in Africa, where the disease costs the continent’s economy $12 billion each year and absorbs 40% of health expenditure.
Between 2000 and 2015, mortality fell by 60%, which represents seven million lives saved, said Bill Gates, who has funded research against the disease since 1999. “Impressive progress but we must continue,” he said.
The malaria summit was on the sidelines of the meeting of leaders of the 53 Commonwealth countries, an organization with 90% of the population at risk of suffering from the disease, recalled Bill Gates, calling to maintain the financial effort to eliminate it.
Participants announced an investment of 2.7 billion pounds (3.82 billion dollars) in research, including a billion dollars from Bill Gates.
The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suffering from the disease that also killed his brother, said that “a new impetus” was needed. “Funding is declining,” he regretted, calling for “renewed political commitment.”
“We are at a crossroads and if we relax, we know that malaria will come back,” he added.