World

Bill Gates worries about President Trump's commitment to malaria fight

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND: When it comes to fighting malaria, Mr Bill Gates and Mr Ray Chambers are inspired yet concerned.

With victory in sight, will the world's new leaders commit to finally beating this persistent parasite?

In separate interviews with Reuters in Davos, Mr Gates and Mr Chambers highlighted uncertainty about leadership changes in the US and in United Nations (UN), and the impact on funding and commitment to global health.

"The imponderable is what happens with President Trump," said Mr Chambers, the UN's special envoy for malaria.

"We are just not sure."

Falls in deaths and infections due to the mosquito-borne parasite in the past 15 years are "one of the greatest success stories in the history of public health", Mr Chambers said.

Mr Gates, whose Gates Foundation commits huge sums to global health projects, said the world has never been closer to ending malaria once and for all.

With the disease still killing a child in Africa every few minutes, those keen to finish the job are worried the US presidency - a key funding source - is with a man with uncertain commitment to global health projects.

And with looming leadership changes at organisations crucial to global health and development aid - the heads of the UN, the World Health Organisation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Bank - malaria champions say the risk of a setback is unnerving.

Today, half the world's nations are malaria-free, and since 2000, global malaria deaths have dropped by 60 per cent.

In Africa, where the vast majority of malaria deaths occur, the death rate has come down by more than 70 per cent.

Despite a steep rise in malaria spending from 2000 to 2010, it has now plateaued.

Funding in 2015 was less than in 2013, with combined international and domestic sources totalling US$2.9 billion (S$4.1 billion), less than half of what experts say is needed.

The US is by far the largest international malaria donor, accounting for a third of funds.

Mr Gates said he hoped Mr Trump would continue crucial malaria commitments, which were ratcheted up by former president George W. Bush, and maintained by former president Barack Obama.

In a recent meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Gates said they talked about malaria and had "good discussions".

"I wouldn't say we see a huge risk of those funds going away, but (this is) a time when we are trying to raise the ambition," Mr Gates said. - REUTERS

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