David Cameron's vaccine pledge to world's poor

Prime Minister David Cameron is to announce today that the UK is stepping up its commitment to vaccinate the world's poorest children.

The financial boost will mean that Britain aims to vaccinate more than 80 million children and save 1.4 million lives by 2015.

Mr Cameron will make the pledge at a global conference which aims to save the lives of four million children and transform the lives of 250 million more by the middle of the decade.

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The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) conference will bring together national governments, private companies, donors and civil society for an unprecedented global push to protect the poorest in the world from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.

The existing commitment is 680 million for 2011-15, but it has not been disclosed yet how much it will increase by.

Britain has already vaccinated 55 million children around the world since 2000.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The UK pledge will vaccinate one child every two seconds for five years and save one child's life every two minutes."

Business chief and philanthropist Bill Gates and Mr Cameron are to lead the Gavi conference in London, which will see political leaders discuss how to generate sufficient funds to ensure children receive the vaccines they need. Gavi is facing a shortfall of 2.3 billion for its work over the next five years, charities have warned.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell yesterday said Britain would show leadership at the conference. adding: "We had a look when we came into government at all the different ways that Britain does development with British taxpayer funds and one of the very best was the Global Alliance of 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 so many of these children die before the age of five.

Mr Mitchell also defended Britain's aid budget. He said it was not only "morally right" but in the UK's national interests to continue to fund development projects around the world.

Mr Gates was in optimistic mood ahead of the conference.

"I think tomorrow will be very, very positive", he said yesterday.

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And he added: "This is my life's work, and days like tomorrow energise us to do even better."

Mr Gates said a malaria vaccine could be just a few years away, while polio could follow smallpox in being eradicated thanks to the success of its vaccine.

He added: "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."

Vaccines were "magic", he said. "They are 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."

Mr Gates said the success of the conference would be measured by how many children's lives were saved.

"The simplest measure is avoiding children dying.

"Just under nine million died last year, but the number would be reduced a lot by getting these new vaccines out, to get the coverage.It's millions of lives at stake, four million would be saved by 2015 if pledges come out successfully."