World leaders exceeded expectations yesterday by pledging an extra $4.3bn (£2.6bn) over the next five years to deliver new and under used vaccines to the poorest countries of the world – but had to defend their generosity against critics who complained the money should have been spent at home.
The sum raised was $600m (£370m) more than the target set by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) to the delight of campaigners who said it will enable millions more children to be protected against diseases including diarrhoea and pneumonia.
David Cameron's commitment to increase Britain's contribution by $1.3bn (£814m) set a benchmark for other donors. But it came under fire from the Tory backbenches and the public who said it should have been used to protect British citizens against the effects of the economic whirlwind in the UK.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the decision was controversial – part of raising the UK's contribution to overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of national income by 2013 – but insisted it could not be put off until times were better. "We can't afford to wait. How many minutes do we wait? Three children die every minute from pneumonia alone. Waiting is not the right thing to do," he said
In response, bloggers besieged websites to complain children were being saved "to grow up in drought, famine and poverty" in a world that had too little food, water and other resources to sustain them and that the money should have been spent on family planning. "Where is the food/water/schooling to make their lives worthwhile? And where is the food/water to come from with finite resources?" said one.
Others alleged GAVI was an elaborate conspiracy to boost the profits of Big Pharma, that vaccines were tainted and that corrupt government's filtered off aid money for their own purposes. "Foreign aid is simply the poor people in rich countries giving money to the rich people in poor countries," said one.
The attacks explain ministers' nervousness about the reaction to the UK's stance in advance of yesterday's meeting. Charities paid tribute to the principled stand taken by Mr Cameron and Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and philanthropist, who pledged an additional $1bn from his foundation.
"Today is a huge victory for mothers and children around the world," said Jamie Drummond, executive director of ONE, the anti-poverty campaign group. "David Cameron and Bill Gates should both be proud of their moral leadership and generosity that has helped secure this result."
Simon Wright, head of health at Save the Children, said: "We knew the Government was going to make a big pledge but we didn't know how big it was. The amount was huge – Britain has always been the biggest donor to GAVI."
Pharmaceutical companies had a right to recoup the cost of their investment but the price of vaccines "needs to be very low for the the poorest countries to be sustainable", he said.
Mr Gates defended GAVI's purchasing system and said he was always careful not to pay more than he had to. "I'm not going to spend any money that isn't directly going to help these poor children," he said. "I feel great about the prices we've got."
The leading Gavi donors
* The Global Alliance on Vaccines (GAVI) and Immunisation had asked world leaders and leading foundations to contribute $3.7bn (£2.3bn) to help vaccinate children against preventable diseases but pledges announced yesterday totalled $4.3bn (£2.6m).
The UK topped the table of donors, promising $1.3bn (£814m) in addition to the £680m it had already pledged by 2015.
1 United Kingdom: $1.3bn (£814)
2 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: $1bn (£613m)
3 Norway: $677m (£415m)
4 United States: $450m (£276m)
5 Sweden: $201m (£123m)
6 Netherlands: $175m (£107m)
7 Australia: $149 (£91m)
8 France: $146m (£90m)
9 Germany: $73m (£45m)
10 HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi: $33m (£20m)
11 Italy: $25m (£15m)
12 Denmark: $19m (£12m)
13= Canada: $15m (£9m)
13= European Commission: $15m (£9m)
15 Brazil: $12m (£7m)
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