Religious Leaders, Rock Stars Support International Child Vaccine Bond

The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as international rock stars, are among the supporters of a pioneering international financial bond that will fund life-saving vaccines for children in poor countries.

Pope Benedict XVI and Dr Rowan Williams bought bonds this week as did other major faith leaders and institutions, including Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Hindu Forum of Britain and the Network of Sikh Organisations.

Rockers-turned-activists Bono and Bob Geldof will also buy into the US$1 billion International Finance Facility for Immunisation, a 10-year initiative launched by Gordon Brown.

"We will ultimately raise an extra US$4 billion to deliver life-saving vaccines to children in the poorest countries," Brown said at the launch, flanked by religious leaders and Queen Rania of Jordan.

"This will immunise 500 million children by 2015 saving ten million lives, and help to eradicate polio from the world."

The first bond was handed to Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace Council, who bought it in the Pope's name.

"It is the hope of Pope Benedict that the participation by the Church in this programme will help to inspire others to take the step toward concrete action," he said.

CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, welcomed this week's launch of the bond scheme which aims to inoculate more than 500 million children in 70 countries over the next ten years.

CAFOD director Chris Bain attended the launch. He said: "Diseases such as polio, measles and diphtheria kill and blight the lives of millions of children in poor countries and this should not and need not be the case.

"The launch of the IFF takes us a step closer to providing funding to eradicate these diseases and give children a better chance of survival.

"However, the need for such an initiative as the IFF is a reflection of the sad fact that the world's governments have not yet done enough to enable developing countries to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the number of deaths of under-fives from 30,000 to 10,000 a day by 2015.

"The IFF provides us with the best hope so far that aid flows will be sufficient to ensure that this goal is met.

"In the meantime, CAFOD will continue to campaign for governments to keep the promises they made last year at the G8 summit at Gleneagles to double aid, cancel debts and deliver trade justice."