International donors including Britain and billionaire Bill Gates pledged US$4.3 billion to fund vaccination programmes to protect children in poor countries against diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.
The funding would allow more than 250 million of the world’s poorest children to be vaccinated by 2015 and would prevent more than 4 million premature deaths, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) said.
“Today is an important moment in our collective commitment to protecting children in developing countries from disease,” said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who attended the pledging conference in London, Reuters reports.
“But every 20 seconds, a child still dies of a vaccine-preventable disease. There’s more work to be done.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has defended increased spending on aid at a time of sharp state spending cuts, pledged almost a third of the total raised, which beat the $3.7 billion target.
“Britain will play its full part. In addition to our existing support for GAVI, we will provide 814 million pounds of new funding up to 2015,” Cameron told the conference, winning a standing ovation from the audience.
“This will help vaccinate over 80 million children and save 1.4 million lives.”
Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Gates, a major GAVI backer who helped set up the alliance more than a decade ago, also announced more funding.
“We are pledging an additional billion dollars,” Gates said, adding that the money would be spread over the next five years.
“It’s not every day that we give away a billion, but for a cause like this it’s exciting to be doing this.”
GAVI says it has helped prevent more than 5 million child deaths in the last decade with its immunisation programmes.
The alliance funds bulk-buys of childhood vaccines against diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae type b, or Hib disease, diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough, tetanus, measles and rotavirus.
The World Health Organisation considers vaccination to be “one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions”. It estimates that between 2 and 3 million deaths are averted each year through immunisation.
A series of academic studies published last week found that if 90 percent of children in the more than 70 poor countries supported by GAVI were fully immunised, some 6.4 million children’s lives and more than $151 billion in treatment costs and lost productivity could be saved over 10 years, producing economic benefits of US$231 billion.