I did the maths. Vaccines make aid go furthest

13 Jun 2011
The Sun
Many hard-up Brits resent money paid out in foreign aid. But four million children's lives could be saved if a Global Alliance For Vaccines And Immunisation summit in London today helps secure the £2.3billion needed to protect them against illnesses including pneumonia and malaria.

PM David Cameron is hosting the life-or-death meeting and Bill Gates - co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - will be there. Here, the Microsoft boss explains why supporting vaccination is vital. The biggest effect of vaccines is that children don't die. This idea that the poorest kids deserve the same vaccinations as rich kids is very understandable. The UK is a leader in the vaccine effort and is making a huge difference. In fact when I go around the world, the UK is really inspiring other countries. I was completely shocked to hear that vaccines weren't going to poor kids and that they are going to die or their brains would be crippled for the rest of their lives because of disease.

I'm a numbers-driven person. The injustice of this and the low cost of the vaccines - that's the logic that brings everyone in. It was during a trip to Africa that I started to have awareness of it. There I met mothers whose children had died. There's a compelling logic about the value of human lives - which is why I think David Cameron is committed and why I am committed. Britain is headed towards spending 0.7 per cent of its Gross National Income on aid by 2013.

At the same time that the Prime Minister says he wants Britain to be generous, he has also been quite demanding in terms of value for money. When the UK Government rated things in terms of what makes the greatest difference in poor countries, vaccine work ranked very highly. In Africa, because of different diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and all the things that cause malnutrition, a high percentage of kids under the age of five are sick enough that their brains never really fully develop.

The rotavirus causes diarrhoea that kills more than 500,000 kids a year. No one was working on getting a vaccine for that to poorer children, and it's outrageous there wasn't research going on for a malaria vaccine. A key figure is how many kids die before the age of five. That came down from 20 million in 1960 to under nine million today because of vaccines. Our goal is to get that below four million.

In economic terms the big effect is that the kids survive but are mentally crippled by disease throughout their lives and so cannot contribute much to society. Vaccines let the kids fully develop and you have the effect of mothers knowing they are going to raise healthy children and realising they don't need as many children to have several support them in old age.

Getting population growth down is critical in terms of whether a country can ever feed itself, educate itself, have stability and preserve the environment. Following today's conference we are pretty optimistic that we will raise enough money so that, for the first time in history, the poorest kids in the world will get the same vaccines that are taken for granted by families in developed countries.