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* New immunisation campaign targets 243 million children
* Triple-A "vaccine bonds" help avert funding lags
By Simon Akam
FREETOWN May 30 (Reuters) - International health alliance GAVI is seeking $3.7 billion from a June 13 pledging conference in London to help deliver vaccines to nearly a quarter of a billion children across the world by 2015.
Launched in 2000 and including partners such as the World Bank and pharmaceutical firms, the grouping targets common but deadly diseases such as pneumonia or diarrhoea and says it has already saved 5 million lives.
The alliance uses so-called "vaccine bonds" underpinned by firm market expectations that donors will ultimately honour their pledges to bridge the time lags in the funding process that are common to the aid sector.
"Kids that happen to be born in poor countries shouldn't have to wait 10-15 years to have access to vaccines," David Ferreira, head of innovative finance for the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation told Reuters during a trip to Sierra Leone ahead of the London conference.
"If you have a cheque that's coming in from the donor in January, really you need the money in July of the previous year."
The majority of donors are governments but include private backers such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. An inaugural $1 billion five-year bond launched in 2006 with a 5 percent coupon is currently yielding 2.4 percent.
"Through the worst of the financial crisis, when the cost of borrowing skyrocketed for many, IFFim survived," Ferreira said of its International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFim) arm which arranges the bonds. Some $3.2 billion worth are currently outstanding.
A GAVI spokesman said new vaccine bonds might be issued this year as part of a regular IFFIm capital raising. "The quantum and timing will be subject to market conditions," he added. Existing bonds are rated Triple-A by leading rating agencies.
Sierra Leone, a country where average income per capital is still little more than a dollar a day a decade after the end of its civil war, is one of 72 states eligible for GAVI support.
That backing has already encouraged GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer to commit to supply a total 600 million doses of anti-pneumonia vaccine at $3.50 a dose -- against $55 charged in Europe and $92 in the United States.
"We talk about a phrase called 'market shaping'," Ferreira said. "The essential way we do it is by aggregating demand."
In the next few years GAVI hopes to continue to rollout vaccines for pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, a leading cause of severe diarrhoea in children.
Pneumonia and diarrhoea are the two leading causes of child mortality worldwide, killing 1.6 million and 1.3 million infants under five each year respectively.