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Malaria research and development (R&D) gets just one-tenth of the investment it needs, according to an international coalition of organisations studying the disease.

In a November 2005 report, the Malaria R&D Alliance says that because the disease kills millions and causes US$12 billion of economic losses to Africa alone, the world must "redouble efforts" to redress current "gross underinvestment" in research to tackle the disease.

A detailed survey of 80 funding organisations — including the 14 major funders of malaria R&D — led the alliance to conclude that about US$323 million was spent in 2004.This is far short of the US$3 billion that malaria research would get if funded at the average rate for all medical conditions according to their impact on humanity, says the report.

The alliance says it conducted its survey because earlier estimates by other institutions varied "by hundreds of millions of dollars", as they lacked adequate data.

"This uncertainty has made it difficult to effectively advocate for appropriate levels of sustained investment for malaria R&D," the report says.

The Malaria R&D Alliance says this report "is the most comprehensive study of its kind and provides critical information for funders and researchers alike" on which organisations fund malaria R&D and where the money goes.

Malaria R&D funding rose by more than US$166 million between 1993 and 2004, according to the report. But about two-thirds of this was due to contributions by two US-based organisations: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Last week, the Gates Foundation announced it was awarding US$258 million for three malaria research projects.

The UK-based Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine was given US$50 million to find environmentally friendly ways to control mosquitoes that can spread malaria. The Malaria Vaccine Initiative was awarded US$108 million to test a vaccine in Mozambique, and the Medicines for Malaria Venture will receive US$100 million to develop cheap and practical malaria drugs for poor countries.

Link to full Malaria R&D Alliance report