Malaria could be wiped out by 2050 with the right tools, funding and political willpower, scientists say.

One of the world’s oldest diseases, malaria claims almost half a million lives each year – and there are over 200 million annual cases.

Young children are most vulnerable to the disease, with under-fives accounting for 61 per cent of the deaths.

But now a report has found the complete eradication of the disease is in reach.

The global incidence of malaria has dropped by 36 per cent since 2000, the authors say. 

They said fatalities have fallen by 60 per cent in the last three years but progress has stalled in that time.

Investment by governments and donors to tackle the disease has plateaued, they said, peaking at $4.3bn (£3.5bn) in 2016.

And while more than half of the world’s countries are now malaria-free, the study found there has been a rise in cases in 55 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The majority of new cases were recorded in 29 mostly African countries, with Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo accounting for 36 per cent of global cases.

The report authors – 41 malariologists, biomedical scientists, economists and health policy experts – are now calling for policies and funding to stamp out the disease. The scientists are from The Lancet Commission on Malaria Eradication, which was set up in 2017 with the University of California, San Francisco.

They propose a three-point plan to “bend the curve” in the fight against malaria, including making better use of current programmes.

They want to see the development of new tools, vaccines and drugs, as well as a funding boost of $2bn (£1.6 billion) to put the plan into action.

The scientists argue that by wiping out malaria, it would overcome the problem of “relentless evolution” of drug resistance by the disease and insecticide resistance of mosquitoes.

The social and economic benefits to countries where malaria is common would greatly exceed the cost, the report said.

Sir Richard Feachem, co-chair of The Lancet Commission on Malaria Eradication, said: “For too long, malaria eradication has been a distant dream, but now we have evidence that malaria can and should be eradicated by 2050.”

Sir Richard, who is the director of the Global Health Group at UCSF, added: “To achieve this common vision, we simply cannot continue with a business as usual approach.

“The world is at a tipping point, and we must instead challenge ourselves with ambitious targets and commit to the bold action needed to meet them.”

Dr Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, co-chair of the commission and a board member of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, said: “Despite unprecedented progress, malaria continues to strip communities around the world of promise and economic potential.

“This is particularly true in Africa, where just five countries account for nearly half of the global burden.

“Malaria eradication is a public health and equity imperative of our generation.”