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Bill Gates upbeat ahead of global vaccination summit

  • 12 June 2011
  • From the section UK
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Image caption The conference hopes to raise funds to save the lives of about four million children worldwide by 2015

Political leaders are set to meet to discuss how to ensure children in the world's poorest countries receive vaccinations.

On the eve of the London summit, one of the world's most influential men explained what he hoped would emerge from the global conference.

The process of developing vaccinations is "cool stuff". In fact, "it's as good as writing computer code".

These aren't the musings of a bedroom computer programmer with a passing interest in immunology.

The observations were made by Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates and they neatly encapsulate his enthusiasm for a campaign to ensure children around the world are protected against potentially fatal diseases.

With his head cocked to one side and a broad smile on his face, his voice fizzed with passion when he described the "magic" of vaccines.

"They're very inexpensive, they can protect you for your entire life, so diseases like smallpox that used to kill millions are completely gone because of the vaccine. It's the greatest thing that ever happened in human health.

"We need to get them out to people and invent some more."

Image caption Bill Gates answered questions in an open phone call arranged by Save the Children

The Microsoft founder was speaking the day before he and Prime Minister David Cameron lead the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) conference, which will see political leaders discuss how to generate sufficient funds to ensure children in the world's poorest countries receive the vaccines they need.

Gavi is a public-private partnership which draws together a number of organisations including the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as the vaccine industry.

The conference is a pledging event for governments and the private sector with the aim of raising £2.3bn ($3.73bn) for vaccines to plug a funding shortfall and save the lives of an estimated four million children worldwide by 2015.

Gavi's global immunisation programme includes plans to roll out new vaccines against major causes of pneumonia and diarrhoea, two of the biggest child killers.

Mr Gates said he believes a malaria vaccine is a few years away and there was a "good chance" that by 2015 a trial will have a successful completion.

'Incredible momentum'

The business mogul was answering questions submitted by members of the public in an open phone call organised by Save the Children.

"This is my life's work, and days like tomorrow energise us to do even better," said the philanthropist, adding that he thought the talks were likely to be "very, very positive".

"I think a success tomorrow would create incredible momentum. I know that the whole image of aid can be saved if people know it's about saving lives."

The prime minister, who will host Monday's summit, has pledged the UK's financial support for Gavi.

Writing in the Observer, Mr Cameron said there was a moral reason why action should be taken to prevent children dying from common diseases.

"We would not stand for that at home. And we should not stand for it anywhere, especially as Britain has the tools, the expertise, and yes, the money, to stop it happening," he wrote.

UK overseas aid has been protected at a time of domestic austerity.

The Department for International Development's overall £7.8bn budget has been unaffected by the government's deficit-cutting measures.

International aid is one of only a handful of areas, including health spending in England, being ringfenced from spending cuts over the next four years.

Most other departments are seeing their budgets cut - defence spending is dropping by 8% by 2015.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said the government had looked at the different ways in which the UK participates in development and who the British taxpayer funds.

"One of the very best was the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, where effectively you can vaccinate a kid in the poor world for the price of a cup of coffee against all five of the killer diseases, which mean that so many of these children die before the age of five," he said.

"Children in Britain do not die from these diseases."

Similarly, Kevin Rudd - Australia's foreign minister, who will attend the talks - told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that vaccination programmes are "one of the most effective things you can do worldwide" in terms of aid.

Despite the praise heaped on existing vaccination programmes by politicians, Vaccines for All - a recent Save the Children report - suggests there are still about 24 million children that have no access to vaccines.

These children are the world's poorest and those most vulnerable to disease.

Mr Gates is a man who became one of the richest people in the world by focusing on results. His outlook on philanthropy is, it seems, no different.

He said the "simplest measure" of the success of the conference is "avoiding children dying".

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