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Bill Gates Funds New Malaria Centre in Dar es Salaam


DATELINE: August 18, 2000

BYLINE:Paul Redfern
Dodoma, Tanzania

A major new centre to undertake research for a malaria vaccine is to be built in Tanzania, thanks to a grant from Bill Gates to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The centre, which will probably be built in Dar es Salaam, is one of the three due to be built in east, south and west Africa.

It will feature a major training centre with top of the range computer facilities and teaching tools that will include workshops for malaria control.

The London school, which is renowned in its field, has been working with the Tanzanian government on the issue ever since it was announced that Bill Gates' Microsoft Foundation had given it a $40 million donation to try and roll back the disease, which kills about three million people a year, most of whom are in Africa.

Professor Elcanor Riley from the London school told The EastAfrican that work would also be conducted with the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre at Moshi and that over the next few years Tanzania could become a major international centre for field trials for potential new vaccines.

Prof Riley said that indiscriminate use of anti-malarials has already developed into widespread drug resistance.

The donation from Mr. Gates was part of his pledge to use around Pounds15 million ($24 million) for education and eradicating diseases in the developing world.

Ironically, the grant came as a result of a routine letter sent to the Gates Foundation last year asking for several million pounds for malaria research and was one of the thousands of such requests it receives.

"We just fired it off into the blue," Prof Brian Greenwood of the London school told the Times. "We weren't that surprised when it went unacknowledged."

However, last April, Prof Greenwood received an e-mail asking him to dispense with the conventional application process and write a 10-page letter of intent instead.

The result was a Pounds26 million ($41.6 million) grant, one of the biggest research grants ever to be received by an institution in the UK.

"We are delighted but now the big responsibility is to spend it wisely," Professor Greenwood said.

The need for a vaccine in Africa is crucial as it is estimated the continent spends around Pounds1.2 billion ($1.9 billion) a year. With prophylactics proving increasingly ineffective, a new vaccine against malaria is becoming more and more vital.

Meanwhile, the establishment of the malaria vaccine trial centre in Tanzania will bring to two the major medical research institutions working on malaria in East Africa, the other being the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Whereas the Tanzania centre will, however, concentrate on vaccine development, Kemri's focus is on environmental and therapeutic control of the disease, by encouraging the use of impregnated bed nets.

Last year, a 115- page report by Britain's Wellcome Trust titled Malaria Research Capacity in Africa identified Kemri as one of the three leading centres for malaria research in Africa.

The report also identified Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and the Gambia as the four leading countries on the continent in malaria research between 1995 and 1997, with each country's researchers publishing more than 50 papers on malaria in internationally reputed medical journals.

The report, however, said that malaria research in Africa was hampered by lack of resources, with "88 per cent of research grants to African laboratories between 1993 and 1998 coming from organisations outside Africa."

The most frequently acknowledged financiers, the report said, were the UNDP, World Bank, the World Health Organisation's special programme for research and training in tropical diseases, the Wellcome Trust itself, Kemri, and the UK Medical Research Council.

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