Nations on the verge of eliminating malaria risk falling short of their goal, just as it lies within reach, due to funding being shifted elsewhere, researchers said on Thursday.

Global aid has moved to areas where malaria remains widespread, while internal domestic funding gets diverted to fighting other diseases perceived as more urgent, said researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, in a study published in The Lancet medical journal.

Once a leading cause of death and illness, malaria has been wiped out in half the world's countries, experts say.

Nations on the verge of eliminating the disease include China, Mexico, Turkey and South Africa, the study said.

Overall, such countries where eliminating malaria is within reach are expected to face a one-third drop in international funding, the research said.

The biggest financier in the fight is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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The Gates organization also provided grant money for the University of California study.

Nations that recently eliminated the mosquito-borne illness include Armenia, Morocco, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Malaria can prove troublesome because quasi-eradication can be followed by resurgence, Richard Feachem, the paper's senior author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

More than 60 resurgences of malaria have occurred since about 1930, failures he attributed to emboldened politicians and governments willing to cut budgets for fighting the disease.

"It becomes out of sight, out of mind," he said.

Looking at 35 countries with current low malaria transmission, the study found signs of diminishing political and financial commitment.

That amounts to "the greatest threat to malaria elimination," the paper said.

Europe on Wednesday became the world's first region to wipe out malaria entirely, a milestone announced by the World Health Organization.

Last year, there were 214 million cases of the disease, and it killed 438,000 people, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

World leaders committed to ending the disease by 2030 when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals last year at the United Nations.