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Donors Pledge Billions For Vaccines In Poor Countries

June 14, 2011

$4.3 billion has been pledged by international donors, led by Britain and Bill Gates, to buy vaccines that help protect children in poor countries against life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea, a London conference announced on Monday.

Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), which is supported by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, says the funding would save more than four million lives in the next four years, by providing more than 250 million of the world’s poorest children to be vaccinated.

The $3.7 billion target set by GAVI was surpassed by the pledges.

“We have exceeded the figure that we set ourselves and we have received firm pledges for a sum of $4.3 billion,” announced Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

In addition to Bill Gates’ charitable foundation pledge of $1 billion over the next five years, Britain has pledged $1.3 billion, Norway gave $677 million, the United States pledged $450 million, Brazil donated $12 million and Japan pledged another $9 million.

“Today is an important moment in our collective commitment to protecting children in developing countries from disease,” says Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who attended the London conference.

But she says that there is “more work to be done,” and that “every 20 seconds, a child still dies of a vaccine-preventable disease.”

Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective public health measures, according to the World Health Organization.

Last week a series of studies found that if 90 percent of children in the more than 70 poor countries supported by GAVI were fully immunized, then about 6.4 million lives and more than $151 billion in treatment costs and lost productivity could be saved over the next decade, reports Reuters. This could have an economic benefit of about $231 billion.

Even though vaccines are available to prevent deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea, three times as many children under the age of five are killed by them as HIV/AIDS.

The pledges raised help fund bulk-buys of childhood vaccines to fight against diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia, Hemophilus influenza type b, or Hib disease, diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough tetanus, measles and rotavirus.

Even as several drugmakers including GSK, Merck, Johnson & Johnson’s Crucell and Sanofi-Aventis’ Sanofi Pasteur announced that they would cut some of their vaccine prices for developing countries, international medical charities like Medecins Sans Frontieres and Doctors Without Borders criticize GAVI for overpaying for vaccines.

But Gates defended GAVI’s purchasing system. “I’m not going to spend any money that isn’t directly going to help these poor children,” he says. “I feel great about the prices we’ve got.”

Gates says that the vaccines were “often less than a tenth what the United States or United Kingdom pay to buy the same vaccine.”

According to GAVI, it has helped prevent more than 5 million child deaths in the last decade with its immunization programs.

“Frankly, the idea of children dying from pneumonia and diarrhea should be absolutely unthinkable in 2011,” says British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“But for many parents in the developing world it is a devastating reality.”

AFP reports that 288 children in 19 countries have been vaccinated through GAVI, and it now wants to extend the program to another 26 countries.

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