Gordon Brown: We must save the world's young from killer diseases

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The Independent Online

The greatest of tragedies should touch the deepest places of conscience. Each year, three million children die from avoidable diseases, ones for which there are preventative vaccines. So we are launching a fund to eradicate pneumococcus that will over 25 years save five million children.

Polio, hepatitis, measles and yellow fever cause deaths we can prevent. That's why in 2006 the most ambitious vaccination facility the world has seen was launched to immunise 500 million children. But a further seven million children die every year from diseases where vaccines should exist but are not yet available.

I believe that this year we can have a breakthrough in the way we develop and produce life-saving vaccines. In Rome, we have put the power of innovative finance at the service of innovative medicine by launching the Advance Market Commitment for vaccines.

Tuberculosis kills 250,000 children a year. Half a million children died from Aids-related diseases in 2004. But pneumonia is the major infectious cause of child mortality worldwide, killing an estimated 1.9 million a year, almost 20 per cent of all child deaths.

The pneumococcus bacteria is the biggest single cause of child pneumonia and the second leading cause of childhood meningitis. It kills 1.6 million people a year, of which almost a million are children.

Yet only 10 per cent of the $100bn (£50bn) spent globally each year on health research is devoted to diseases responsible for 90 per cent of health problems.

The greatest of challenges demands the boldest of endeavours to help and to heal. That is why Italy, Britain, Canada, Russia, Norway and the Gates Foundation are launching a workable, powerful and cost-effective mechanism that uses markets to accelerate the development and availability of a pneumococcal vaccine effective for developing countries.

This vehicle will provide $1.5bn in future financial commitments to the poorest countries, enabling them the purchasing power to buy at discounted prices a suitable vaccine when one becomes available.

At a stroke, it turns a vague hope for a medical breakthrough into an immediate reality. It will now make economic sense for pharmaceutical companies to develop the new vaccine. And for pneumococcus alone over the next 20 five years we can prevent more than million deaths.

The evidence is that with sufficient investment in R&D we can then do the same in addressing malaria. Already, thanks to the Gates Foundation, a research project based at a clinic near a sugar factory I visited in Mozambique is delivering some of the most exciting results.

For children aged one to four, the new vaccine reduced severe malaria by 58 per cent in children. So after the anti-pneumonia initiative has proved its value my plan is to act against malaria, then to accelerate the discovery of a preventive vaccine for HIV and Aids. Globally, more than 40 million people live with HIV. Last year, three million died. But 4.9 million more people became infected, 700,000 of them children.

The international community has agreed the target of universal access to HIV/Aids prevention, treatment and care by 2010.

Weak health systems and insufficient doctors and nurses are among the main obstacles to access to basic health care. That is why we support German leadership in their G8 presidency on support for health systems.