LONDON (AFP) – Britain and Bill Gates joined forces on Monday to pledge more than half of the $3.7 billion (2.6 billion euros) sought to vaccinate nearly 250 million children against preventable diseases.
Prime Minister David Cameron told a donors’ conference in London that Britain would contribute a further £814 million ($1.3 billion, 920 million euros) to GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), an aid group backed by the Microsoft tycoon.
Cameron said the extra funds would help treat 80 million children against pneumonia and diarrhoea, and save 1.4 million lives.
Gates followed Cameron’s pledge by saying his charitable foundation would commit an additional $1 billion over five years.
It is expected that by the end of the one-day summit donations should exceed the $3.7 billion target.
Cameron said: “Today we come together because we have the chance to save another four million lives in four years.
“Frankly, the idea of children dying from pneumonia and diarrhoea should be absolutely unthinkable in 2011.
“But for many parents in the developing world it is a devastating reality.”
The pledges have gone a long way towards making up the $3.7-billion funding shortfall as GAVI aims to immunise 243 million more children and avert four million deaths by 2015.
GAVI has already vaccinated 288 million children in 19 countries and now wants to extend the programme of jabs to another 26 countries.
Announcing his pledge, Gates said: “It’s not every day you give away a billion dollars but for a cause like this it’s exciting to be doing this.”
Brazil and Japan donated to GAVI for the first time. Brazil pledged $20 million over 20 years.
Pneumonia and diarrhoea kill three times as many children under the age of five as HIV/AIDS even though vaccines are available to prevent such deaths.
Many developing countries cannot afford the vaccines.
British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline last week agreed that for sales to the world’s poorest nations it would slash 95 percent off the price of a vaccine for the diarrhoeal disease rotavirus.
Cameron told the conference Britain’s increased contribution to GAVI was in line with his decision to maintain the government’s international aid budget at a time when it was making cuts to public spending in many other areas.
“Some people say we simply can’t afford spending money on overseas aid right now, that we should get our own house in order before worrying about other people’s problems.”
But Cameron rejected these arguments.
“I think there is a strong moral case for keeping our promises to the world’s poorest and helping them, even when we face challenges at home,” he said.
“When you make a promise to the poorest children in the world, you should keep it.”
But he said he wanted to see poor nations become trading partners, not just recipients of aid.
“In the long term I know we will not help countries develop by just giving them money.”