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Immunisation initiative falls flat

Plans by European finance ministers to kick start the provision of vaccines to the developing world have been met with scepticism

A $4bn initiative by European finance ministers to boost the provision of vaccines that tackle diseases such as polio and hepatitis B in the developing world has met with a lukewarm reception.

British finance minister Gordon Brown said the plan, the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), would save the lives of some five million children over the next 10 years and a further five million after that.

The pilot scheme, launched by ministers from France, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK aims to boost funding by $4bn using long-term financial commitments to provide `front-loaded' resources for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), an alliance between the public and private sector.

The UK has pledged most of the money ($130m a year) while France has promised $100m; Italy $30m, Sweden $27m and Spain $12m.

The countries will borrow money on the capital markets and pay it back against future pledges of aid; a way of freeing up aid money more quickly. However, the plan has led to criticism that it is a `buy now, pay later' project.

Peter Hardstaff, head of policy at the charity World Development Movement said while he agreed with providing extra money for immunisation, the money should come from ordinary planned government revenues.

ìThe IFF is a very risky strategy when it is quite possible to shift spending priorities and come up with the money without having to borrow,î he said. ìAlthough the IFF will provide more money in the short term, we have calculated that the net long-term loss in aid from the IFF could be over $100bn.î

Save the Children spokesman, Martin Phillips said the scheme fell short on major health issues and governments needed to concentrate on building the basics in healthcare and education in the developing world.

ìGordon Brown really has to address how it's going to be paid back,î he said. ìThe IFFIm mechanism is a mortgage and someone is going to have to pay back the interest.î

Italian finance minister Domenico Siniscalo admitted that the scheme was a way of ìborrowing from the futureî but denied it was a gimmick, saying it was based on ìvery sound finance.î

Microsoft magnate Bill Gates has promised $750m over 10 years to the scheme through his Gates foundation.

30th September 2008

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