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Map of progress against malaria, courtesy of the Gates Foundation | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the world’s leading funders in the battle to defeat malaria, which is both a good and bad thing.

To give an overview of the progress against malaria to date, the Gates Foundation has posted on its website this global map of malaria showing country-by-country how many deaths are estimated to have been prevented through the increased distribution of bednets and insecticides. Go to link, below is a screen grab only.

Gates Foundation

So how could it be a bad thing for the Seattle philanthropy to be one of the leading sources of funding for the fight against malaria? As this article in TropIKA.net notes, some are concerned that malaria funding has become too concentrated on select research priorities set by a handful of organizations:

(M)alaria R&D funding must be more efficiently distributed. At present, the majority of funding goes toward drug development (38 per cent), vaccines (28 per cent) and basic research (23 per cent). Diagnostics and vector control development account for a mere five percent combined. While that disparity reflects differences in development costs, it also underscores a yawning gap in funding for diagnostics.

Between 2007 and 2009, just two organizations—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH)—provided half of the global malaria R&D funding and were responsible for 85 percent of the global increase in malaria funding, with the Gates Foundation leading the way. The latter provided 30 percent of global funding in 2009.

The Gates Foundation also provided more than three-quarters of funding for malaria product development partnerships (PDPs) in 2008-2009, allowing the latter to play a central role in product development. According to the report, PDPs managed around one quarter of all malaria R&D funding, nearly 40 percent of global grant funding and half of all drug and vaccine projects in the global malaria R&D pipeline.

The authors of the report say this concentration of funding, and funding priorities, is troubling. It’s not the first time someone has complained about the Seattle philanthropy having too much influence in this arena.

The solution, of course, is not for the Gates Foundation to reduce its support for select programs. It’s for the rest of the international community to increase and diversity funding for malaria interventions and research.

HIV Vaccine Summit: A world without AIDS | 

Los Alamos National Laboratory

HIV, the virus

I’m in Atlanta this week for a meeting, starting today, aimed at ridding the world of AIDS — the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.

A vaccine is really the only way.

After many years of frustration and even despair of ever finding an HIV vaccine, there have been some  significant, positive steps forward in the past year:

These are good signs, indicating an effective HIV vaccine is indeed possible. But we’re probably still a long way off getting one, and not just because of the scientific challenges.

As always, one of the biggest barriers is money.

We (the world community, all of us in the Humanosphere) spend less than a billion dollars a year on HIV vaccine research — as compared to the $30 billion or so we spend treating people and dealing with the still-spreading AIDS pandemic.

“And we’re not keeping up,” said Catherine Hankins of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). “For every two people we put on treatment, another five people are still being newly infected.”

Alan Bernstein, executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, said there is new momentum and optimism about finding an effective vaccine against AIDS.

“But at the same time, funding for research has dropped,” Bernstein said. He noted that the U.S. government (NIH) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today are responsible for perhaps 80 percent of the world’s funding for HIV vaccine research.

That has to change, Bernstein said, if we are to speed up the search for the only real chance the world has of beating AIDS. More and more people are still getting infected, he said, and the cost of treating them is ballooning, creating a global moral and financial crisis.

“We’re on a treadmill and the pace is picking up,” Bernstein said. Business as usual will no longer be enough to even remain in place, he said. And true progress will require much more investment in the scientific quest for a vaccine.