Immunisation fund to save 10 million children

The UK has launched a ground-breaking, multi-billion pound bond scheme aimed at saving 10 million children in the developing world from deadly diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria and tetanus.

The scheme allows cash due to be spent on vaccinations over the next decade to be used now, and UK Chancellor Gordon Brown said he hoped it would fund 500 million immunisations in 10 years.

The International Finance Facility for Immunisation – IFFIm – uses long-term, binding commitments from donors as collateral to borrow money up front from institutional and private investors, which can be spent immediately on mass vaccination programmes.

At the London launch of the scheme, which was attended by Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan and representatives of Britain’s faith groups, the inaugural bond issue was expected to raise up to $1 billion.

The proceeds will go to help the GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) to develop new and under-used vaccines, speed up the development of new vaccines in poorer countries and improve health services.

“Millions of people campaigned to Make Poverty History last year,” said the Chancellor. “And now we can say to them all: we are delivering the promises we made, your hopes are becoming a reality, and millions of young children’s lives will be saved as a result.”

Recognising this combination of strong moral purpose and the power to raise finance, Pope Benedict XVI, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Hindu Forum of Britain and the Network of Sikh Organisations agreed to buy the first six IFFIm bonds.

“I am delighted to be here with other Church and faith leaders to launch (this) initiative,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at the launch. “By buying a bond I make a small contribution to a much bigger effort to mobilise resources to relieve poverty and suffering and build hope for a better future.”

Ten million children under five die every year and a quarter of these these deaths are caused by diseases that are, or soon will be, vaccine preventable, including measles, polio, diphtheria and hepatitis.

GAVI currently operates in over 70 countries. Since its inception in 2000, it has immunised more than 115 million children and saved 1.7 million lives. GAVI has also accelerated the introduction of new vaccines and is strengthening health and vaccine delivery systems.

The UK Treasury said that investing $4 billion over 15 years, without frontloading, would save only 2.5 million lives. But by frontloading the same amount over 10 years through IFFIm, 10 million lives will be saved by 2015 alone. It also provides more certainty for manufacturers to invest in new and under-used vaccines and speed up the reduction of vaccine prices – helping to save many more lives.

IFFIm will double GAVI resources committed and delivered to countries, dramatically expanding access to immunisation and improving health. 84% per cent of the world’s non-immunised children are born in countries that are eligible for IFFIm support. Immunisation also supports what is called ‘herd immunity’ – if a child is vaccinated, it not only reduces the risk of them catching a disease, but also reduces the risk to others who come in contact with the child.

Commitments of support for IFFIm have so far been made by the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Brazil and South Africa, together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr Brown said he hoped to persuade countries including the US, Brazil, China and South Africa to join the scheme, which sees the bonds sold on behalf of the World Bank.

Over the next 10 years, IFFIm will: