Global Health

The Marketplace Report: Global Vaccination Plan

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Madeleine Brand talks to Stephen Beard of Marketplace about the British government's $4-billion plan to vaccinate children in the developing world against diseases such as measles, polio, and diphtheria. Several other European countries — and Microsoft boss Bill Gates — are contributing to the effort.


Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Millions of children in the developing world die every year from preventable diseases like polio and diphtheria. Today the British government launched a plan to reduce those deaths. The idea is to raise $4 billion to vaccinate some of the poorest children on the planet. But the US government and several aid agencies are critical of that. "Marketplace's" Stephen Beard joins us now from London.

And, Stephen, how is this program supposed to work, and why is it controversial?

STEPHEN BEARD ("Marketplace"): Well, it's controversial because it involves borrowing. It is, in fact, a sort of giant mortgage. The idea is that the fund will raise $4 billion in the financial markets now to pay for a massive vaccination program, and then that money will be repaid over the next 10 years out of future tax revenues from the countries taking part. At the moment, that's the UK, France, Italy and Sweden. Microsoft boss Bill Gates is backing it, too. He's agreed to pay $75 million a year over the next decade to help pay back the debt. The British finance chief Gordon Brown says we've got to stop these diseases in their tracks, and it makes perfect sense in health terms and financially to borrow a large sum now to carry out the vaccination program.

Mr. GORDON BROWN (British Finance Chief): To put up the money now means that we eradicate some of the worst killer diseases in the world, or attempt to do so. And it means that we save money later, because instead of young children crippled by disease, we have young men and women who are able to play the part in the development of the economies of some of the poorest countries.

BRAND: And that's the architect of the vaccination program, Gordon Brown. And, Stephen, what do critics of it say?

BEARD: Well, President Bush, for example, has expressed some reservations about it. He said that making a specific pledge of aid money for a specific project every year for the next 10 years doesn't fit with the US budgetary process, so he's not participating. And there are some aid agencies, too, that are a bit uneasy, especially about the borrowing aspect. In effect, they say, future aid budgets will be paying off the loan and paying interest to the banks and other lending institutions. So they're worried that other aid projects down the line will suffer.

BRAND: But it seems that Gordon Brown and other organizers of this fund are undeterred, so will it go ahead?

BEARD: Yes, it certainly will. I mean, they say the need for this is overwhelming. Thirty million children in the developing world have not been immunized. Five million lives could be saved over the next decade.

Well, we're going to be exploring some of these aid issues in more detail next week on "Marketplace," but later today on the show, we'll be dealing with problems and solutions closer to home. We'll be taking a look at some visions of how the city of New Orleans should be rebuilt.

BRAND: Stephen Beard of public radio's daily business show "Marketplace," and "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media.

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