DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Bill and Melinda Gates said on Friday they would spend $10 billion over the next decade to develop and deliver vaccines, an increased commitment that reflects progress in the pipeline of products for immunizing children in the developing world.
Over the past 10 years, the Microsoft co-founder's charity has committed $4.5 billion to vaccines and has been instrumental in establishing the GAVI alliance, a public-private partnership that channels money for vaccines in poor countries.
By increasing immunization coverage in developing countries to 90 percent, it should be possible to prevent the deaths of 7.6 million children under five between 2010 and 2019, Gates told reporters at the World Economic Forum.
Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization described Gates' commitment to vaccines as "unprecedented" and called on governments around the world and the private sector to match it with "unprecedented action."
Vaccination rates have already climbed remarkably in recent years, with even a poor African country like Malawi now boasting coverage rates similar to those in many Western cities.
"Over the last 10 years, the success of both increased vaccine coverage and getting new vaccines out has been phenomenal," Gates said.
More cash is now needed to make the most of new vaccines becoming available, including ones against severe diarrhea and pneumococcal disease from GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Pfizer.
"We can take immunization to the next level, with the expanded uptake of new vaccines against major killers such as pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea," Chan said in a statement.
She said an extra two million deaths in children under five could be prevented by 2015 by widespread use of new vaccines and a 10 percent increase in global immunization coverage.
Further off, Glaxo is also in the final phase of testing a vaccine against malaria that Gates said could slash deaths from the mosquito-borne disease.
Gates warned against the risk of governments diverting foreign aid funding for health toward climate change, arguing that health should stay a top priority -- not least because better health leads to a lower birth rate.
Curbing the globe's population growth is critical for tackling global warming.
Reporting by Ben Hirschler, additional reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Jon Boyle