Gates: $10 billion vaccine program could save 8.7 million lives

DAVOS, Switzerland — Bill and Melinda Gates announced plans Jan. 29 to invest $10 billion in the fight against a number of illnesses including AIDS and said the record donation could save nearly nine million lives.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, they said the 10-year program would focus on vaccines for AIDS, tuberculosis, rotavirus and pneumonia, CNN reported.

The $34 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is more than doubling its vaccine portfolio — already its largest focus.

The couple told delegates that they used a model developed by a consortium at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States to project the potential impact of vaccines on childhood deaths over the next decade.

"We must make this the decade of vaccines," Bill Gates said.

"Vaccines are a miracle," Melinda Gates added. "With just a few doses, they can prevent deadly diseases for a lifetime. We've made vaccines our priority at the Gates Foundation because we've seen firsthand their incredible impact on children's lives."

"By significantly scaling up the delivery of life-saving vaccines in developing countries to 90 percent coverage — including new vaccines to prevent severe diarrhea and pneumonia — the model suggests that we could prevent the deaths of some 7.6 million children under 5 from 2010-2019."

The foundation also estimates that an additional 1.1 million children could be saved with the rapid introduction of a malaria vaccine beginning in 2014, bringing the total number of potential lives saved to 8.7 million.

The couple said their pledge was inspired by the remarkable progress made on vaccines in recent years.

Since its inception in 1994 the Gates Foundation has spent $4.5 billion on vaccine programs. The new $1 billion-a-year pledge is $200 million over its current annual outlay for vaccine work.

"We're continuing to ramp up the amount we're spending on vaccines because it's been such a good investment," Bill Gates told NPR in an interview.