UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Microsoft founder Bill Gates gave $168.7 million to develop vaccines for malaria, part of $3 billion in funding announced on Thursday to tackle Africa's biggest killer disease.
Gates said the funding for the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline Plc, will support "next-generation" vaccines research to find longer-lasting protection against the mosquito-borne disease.
The funding was announced on the sidelines of a special poverty summit organized by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to assess the Millennium Development Goals to halve global poverty by 2015, including by tackling malaria.
"I'm very hopeful that the malaria vaccine currently in advanced testing will be proven effective, but that will just be the first step," said Gates, who stepped down from his duties at Microsoft in June to focus on philanthropy.
"Now it's time to develop a new generation of vaccines that are even more effective, and could someday help eradicate malaria altogether."
Experts agree that a vaccine is the best way to fight the disease, but this has proven nearly impossible. The Plasmodium falciparum parasite has a complex life cycle inside mosquitoes and the human body, which helps it evade the immune system.
GlaxoSmithKline Plc has reported that its experimental vaccine had protected 65 percent of infants from infection, but it reduced illness by just 35 percent after six months.
An international health consortium, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, comprising U.N. agencies, leading drugmakers and aid experts, said on Thursday the world should spend more than $5 billion a year to prevent deaths from malaria, nearly five times current spending.
The World Bank said on Thursday it will increase spending on fighting malaria in Africa by $1.1 billion, and focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, which account for 30 percent to 40 percent of all malaria deaths worldwide.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick said countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Zambia had made progress in cutting malaria deaths through the distribution of bed nets and more access to low-cost, effective drugs for treating the disease.
In other funding announced, the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said it would give $1.62 billion in grants over the next two years for malaria; Britain pledged $40 million; and Houston-based Marathon Oil pledged $28 million for Equatorial Guinea over five years. Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it would give $2 million for insecticide-treated bed nets to refugees in Africa.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)