By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent
LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Renewed action and boosted funding to fight malaria could prevent 350 million cases of the disease in the next five years and save 650,000 lives across commonwealth countries, health experts said on Wednesday.
Seeking to reignite efforts to wipe out the deadly mosquito-borne disease, philanthropists, business leaders and ministers from donor and malaria-affected countries pledged £2.7 billion ($3.8 billion) to drive research and innovation and improve access to malaria prevention and treatments.
Spearheaded by the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, the leaders warned against complacency in fighting malaria - a disease which kills around half a million people, mainly babies and young children, each year.
While enormous progress has been made over the past 20 years in reducing malaria cases and deaths, in 2016, for the first time in a decade, the number of malaria cases was on the rise and in some areas there was a resurgence, according to the World Health Organization.
The disease's stubbornness is partly due to the mosquito that transmits the disease and the parasite that causes it developing resistance to the sprays and drugs used to fight them, health experts say. It is also partly due to stagnant global funding for malaria since 2010. Climate change and conflict can also exacerbate malaria outbreaks.
"History has shown that with malaria there is no standing still – we move forward or risk resurgence," Gates said in a statement ahead of a "Malaria Summit" in London on Wednesday.
His multi-billion dollar philanthropic fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is co-convening the summit, pledged an extra $1 billion through to 2023 to fund malaria research and development to try to end malaria for good.
"It's a disease that is preventable, treatable and ultimately beatable, but progress against malaria is not inevitable," Gates said. "We hope today marks a turning point."
The malaria summit was designed to coincide with a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London this week. The 53 Commonwealth countries, mostly former British colonies, are disproportionately affected by malaria – accounting for more than half of all global cases and deaths although they are home to just a third of the world's population.
Among new funding and research commitments announced at the summit, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said $2 billion would be invested in 46 countries affected by malaria between 2018-20.
Pharmaceutical firms GSK and Novartis also increased investment into malaria research and development - of 175 million pounds ($250 million) and $100 million dollars respectively. And five agrichemical companies launched a joint initiative to speed up development of new ways to control mosquitoes.
($1 = 0.6973 pounds)
(Reporting by Kate Kelland Editing by Peter Graff)
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