A global vaccine initiative launched with the help of Bill Gates is seeking $4.3 billion in new funding to ramp up child immunization campaigns against deadly diseases such as hepatitis B, diarrhea and pneumonia in the developing world.
The Geneva-based GAVI alliance, launched a decade ago as a partner of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said governments and other donors could help save 4.2 million lives if they meet the funding demands through 2015.
It will make its appeal for the cash at a meeting next week in The Hague, Netherlands. The group already has $2.7 billion in the bank for its programs over the next five years, meaning its total budget would be about $7 billion.
"Vaccines are a lifelong investment," said Judith Kallenberg, who manages GAVI's donor relations. "If you prevent disease, you don't have to treat it."
GAVI's call for money comes less than two months after the Microsoft co-founder and his wife pledged to donate $10 billion over the next decade to research new vaccines and bring them to the world's poorest countries. The Gateses said their funds would produce higher immunization rates and aim to make sure that 90 percent of children are immunized against dangerous diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia in poorer nations.
Current rates of immunization against these diseases are very low in many African countries.
GAVI spokesman Jeffrey Rowland said it was unclear if his organization would get any part of the Gates funds, but noted that it received $1.5 billion from the Gates foundation over the last 10 years.
In his January announcement in a joint news conference with GAVI, Gates praised the work of the organization, but the foundation's donation is aimed primarily at developing and getting new vaccines to developing countries, while GAVI works primarily on the distribution side.
Rowland said GAVI's new funds could help save 1 million child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea, which are the cause of 40 percent of the deaths of children under 5 in poor nations.
The group plans a massive immunization campaign against rotavirus, which causes deadly diarrhea, and pneumococcal infections that lead to meningitis and pneumonia.
It said it would begin delivering rotavirus vaccines produced by GlaxoSmithKline and Merck that recently have been approved by the World Health Organization; and pneumococcal vaccines by GSK and Pfizer that should soon be approved.
Vaccines are often an effective way to spend money to improve public health, because they can even be delivered in poor countries lacking functioning health systems.
GAVI said it has helped immunize over 250 million children this decade. That has saved over 5 million children from premature deaths, it claims.