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Bill Gates, British Finance Minister Pledge $4.28bn to Fight Malaria

In an effort to quash the potentially fatal illness for good, billionaire Bill Gates and British finance minister George Osborne are pledging £3 billion (US$4.28 billion) to fight malaria around the world.

The duo announced their plan on Monday, promising to provide malaria research funding over the next five years, reports AFP.

Moving forward, Osborne is pledging £500 million (US$709 million) a year from the British overseas aid budget, while nonprofit The Gates Foundation has agreed to supply US$200 million in the program's first year followed by additional annual contributions.

“When it comes to human tragedy, no creature comes close to the devastation caused by the mosquito,” the pair wrote in their initiative's announcement. “We both believe that a malaria-free world has to be one of the highest global health priorities.”

While roughly half of the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria, according to the World Health Organization, there have been considerable strides in the elimination of malaria. Between 2000 and 2015, the rate of new malaria cases fell by 37% worldwide, with death rates falling by 60% around the globe. For those most affected by the disease – children under the age of five – death rates fell by 65%.

Most fatal malaria cases are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, however Vietnam has incidences of malaria in the Central Highlands provinces of Lam Dong, Dak Lak, Gia Lai and Kon Tum, as well as coastal provinces like Khanh Hoa and Ninh Thuan. There are also rare cases in the Mekong Delta.

While the country's decline in malaria cases is a positive sign, resistance to antimalarial drugs worldwide – not unlike Vietnam's growing resistance to antibiotics – threatens to undo the progress made against malaria around the globe.

“If new insecticides are not introduced by 2020, the situation will become critical and deaths could surge,” wrote Osborne and Gates, according to AFP.

The article continued: “We are optimistic that in our lifetimes we can eradicate malaria and other deadly tropical diseases, and confront emerging threats, making the world a safer place for all.”

In addition to fighting malaria across the globe, Bill Gates and his philanthropic foundation have a history in Vietnam. In 2014, the billionaire announced plans to create a match-based fund to improve the country's healthcare system, mirroring other donors' contributions dollar-for-dollar.

[Photo via Flickr user Thomas Hawk]

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