LONDONThe GAVI international immunizations group said on Tuesday it had agreed more than 50 new deals to fund potentially life-saving vaccines for children in 37 developing countries.
The Geneva-based Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization said the agreements, which will help provide rotavirus, pneumococcal and other vaccines for children under five, were a big step in the fight against the two leading child killers -- severe diarrhea and pneumonia.
Rotavirus shots made by various drug firms such as GlaxoSmithKline , Merck and Sanofi are part of routine childhood vaccinations in many wealthier nations and recent studies from the United States, Australia, El Salvador and Mexico showed swift falls in the number of children becoming ill with the virus.
In 2009, the World Health Organization said all countries should include rotavirus shots in national vaccination programs, but many poorer nations struggle to afford them.
GAVI said its rollout of rotavirus vaccines in Africa had started, in Sudan, and Tuesday's agreements meant funding will now be available for these shots to go to children in 12 more African countries.
GAVI said it had also agreed funding for 18 more countries to introduce pneumococcal vaccines -- 12 of them in Africa -- and for other types of vaccines, including measles, meningitis and pentavalent shots, in several other countries.
Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in children under five, killing more than 500,000 children each year worldwide and causing illness in several million more. Nearly 50 percent of all rotavirus deaths are in Africa.
Pneumococcal disease causes pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis and also kills more than 500,000 children each year worldwide, the vast majority of them in Africa and Asia.
"These new vaccines will prevent millions of children from dying of pneumonia and diarrhea," said Anthony Lake, executive director of the United Nations children's fund UNICEF.
"It is among the most vulnerable that these vaccines can make the biggest difference, especially if they are combined with better nutrition, sanitation and other critical interventions."
At it latest funding round in June, GAVI -- a public-private partnership set up in 2000 to speed the introduction of vaccines into the world's poorest countries -- won pledges of $4.3 billion from international donors.
Just ahead of that pledging meeting, several leading drugmakers said they were cutting prices on vaccines supplied through GAVI.
Vaccines for the GAVI-funded pneumococcal campaigns are being supplied by drugmakers Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline as part of a so-called advance market commitment deal part-funded by Britain, Canada, Italy, Norway, Russia and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
GAVI chief executive Seth Berkley said the alliance was delivering on its promise to protect more children against life-threatening but preventable diseases.
Since it was launched at the World Economic Forum in 2000, GAVI says it has prevented more than five million future deaths and helped protect 288 million children with vaccines.