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The foundation set up by Microsoft founder Bill Gates has announced that it will donate US$168 million to accelerate research into malaria.

The money will fund three research projects that seek to develop new drugs to fight drug-resistant malaria, effective malaria vaccines, and improved malaria prevention strategies for children.

"It's time to treat Africa's malaria epidemic like the crisis it is," Gates said yesterday, when announcing the grants at a malaria treatment and research centre in Manhiça, Mozambique. "It is unacceptable that 3,000 African children die every day from a largely preventable and treatable disease."

Gates called on world leaders to renew the global fight against malaria, which infects 300 to 500 million people and kills more than one million a year — 90 per cent of them in Africa.

"Investment in malaria research has fallen far short of the need," says Jong-Wook Lee, director-general of the World Health Organisation. "These grants will allow many more researchers to aggressively pursue promising leads for malaria drugs and vaccines, and quickly move research from the lab to the field."

Current spending on malaria control is estimated at US$200 million a year. It is estimated that US$1.5 million to US$2.5 billion would be needed to effectively control the disease.

The new grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation include US$28 million for research on how existing malaria drugs could decrease severe illness from malaria in infants; US$40 million to help the Medicines for Malaria Venture — a public-private partnership based in Switzerland — develop new drugs; and US$100 million towards vaccine research by the US-based Malaria Vaccine Initiative.