Gates backs Central America malaria elimination plan with $31 million

LONDON (Reuters) - Philanthropist Bill Gates promised $31 million on Wednesday as part of a new Central America malaria elimination fund aimed at wiping out the disease in seven of the region’s countries and the Dominican Republic.

In a joint plan with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Carlos Slim Foundation, Gates said the Regional Malaria Elimination Initiative (RMEI) would bring a total of $83.6 million in new funds “to ensure malaria remains a top health and development priority despite dwindling numbers of cases”.

The new money would also help leverage more than $100 million in domestic financing and $39 million of existing donor money in the region by 2022, the philanthropist’s Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said in a statement.

Although Central America has seen a more than 90 percent drop in malaria cases since 2000, progress against the mosquito-borne disease has stalled and several countries in the region still have significant problems with malaria.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 40,270 confirmed cases of malaria were reported in 2016 in Central America, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Gates said the collaboration would help cover “financial and technical gaps” in the region as well as strengthening health systems to tackle other diseases carried by mosquitoes, including Zika, dengue and Chikungunya.

Worldwide, malaria infects around 216 million people a year, killing around half a million of them. Most deaths are among babies and young children in the poorest parts of Africa. The WHO says that in 2016, some $2.7 billion was invested in global malaria control and elimination efforts.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Alison Williams