Brown joins the Pope to launch vaccination scheme

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown will meet the Pope today as the two men launch a global scheme to vaccinate some of the world's poorest children.

Mr Brown, whose late father was a Church of Scotland minister, will enhance his credentials as Britain's prime minister-in-waiting on the world stage by meeting Pope Benedict XVI in Rome and holding talks with Romano Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister.

The Chancellor has been one of the driving forces behind a plan to sell bonds to ensure an extra 500 million children are immunised against preventable diseases such as polio, diphtheria, hepatitis and measles. About 2.5 million children die from such illnesses each year - one every 12 seconds.

The governments of Britain, Italy, Canada and Norway will announce their financial contributions to the scheme in Rome today. Backing will also come from Bill Gates. When Mr Brown launched the British bonds in London last November, the Pope was among the first to buy one.

Mr Brown regards the Advanced Market Commitments for Vaccines project as an example of how the world's faiths can achieve real progress by working together. He hopes the plan will eradicate polio in the way that a World Health Organisation vaccination campaign between 1965 and 1980 eliminated smallpox.

The plan involves "front-loading" aid money that would have been spent in later years to ensure more lives are saved. The aim is to prevent five million deaths by 2015 and a further five million in later years.

It will form part of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which has prevented about 1.7 million deaths by vaccinating 115 million children since 2000.