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Malaria vaccine could be three years away, says Bill Gates

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said today that Malaria can be eradicated. Right now there is no vaccine for the disease, which kills a million people a year, most of them children, but, Mr Gates says a breakthrough is near.Mr Gates, the world’s richest man made the statement as he finished his  first full year working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the charitable organisation he runs with his wife and his father. The foundation that aims to pour billions of dollars into improving the lives of people in the world's poorest countries has spent billions of dollars in the fight against malaria. Bed nets are helping cut malaria deaths over Africa, he said, but 'malaria is a particularly tricky disease.' Despite having one vaccine in a Phase III trial, an effective malaria vaccine is still 8 to 15 years away, he said. "We have a vaccine that's in the last trial phase - called phase three. A partially effective vaccine could even be available within three years, but a fully effective vaccine will take five to 10 years," he told the BBC World Service's World Today programme.

Investment in science and technology funding research that could lead to breakthroughs in health, education, and food, is key to tackling poverty, says Mr Gates in his annual letter put out yesterday. Science and technology, he added, can make more of a difference than charity and government aid alone. In his letter, he says the foundation is backing areas of innovation including online learning, teacher improvement, malaria vaccine development, HIV prevention, and genetically modified seeds. The Seattle-based foundation directs most of its donations at global health, agriculture development and education. Since 1994, the foundation has committed to $21.3billion (£13.2billion) in grants.'Melinda and I see our foundation's key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded,' Mr Gates wrote. 'This draws not only on our backgrounds in technology but also on the foundation's size and ability to take a long-term view and take large risks on new approaches.'

Mr Gates told the BBC he fears richer countries may raid their foreign aid budgets to pay for the cost of tackling climate change. This would be a mistake, he warned, because aid budgets not only save lives, they also improve people's health and, in turn, that stops population growth - a key driver he says, of global warming. "I just want to make sure that that funding doesn't come by reducing the funds for Aids, drugs or vaccines, which, after all, not only do they save lives but its this improved health that actually gets a country to reduce its population growth," he said. "Climate change is very important, it is an issue money should go to. It just shouldn't come out of health aid budgets." 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children