British finance minister Gordon Brown has launched a fund to immunize millions of children around the globe, calling it a great "Christmas present" for the world's poor. The 2.1-billion-pound (3.1-billion-euro, 4.0-billion-dollar) International Finance Facility for Immunization aims to pay for 500 million children over the next decade to be protected against polio, measles, diphtheria and hepatitis.
The fund works by selling long-term bonds to international money markets to raise money for developing countries now, with interest on these paid back using future aid funding.
"We have it in our power, in this world, to prevent these diseases of polio, tuberculosis, of diphtheria, of tetanus, it is possible do to this," he told GMTV television. "I think that is probably the best Christmas present for every child in the world," he added Tuesday.
Brown, the expected successor to Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, was to present religious leaders with bonds worth 670 pounds which they are buying to show support for the initiative at the formal London launch later Tuesday.
Among those giving their backing are the head of the Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Doctor Rowan Williams, and umbrella group the Muslim Council of Britain.
Pope Benedict XVI was to be represented by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the Vatican said. Also attending the launch in London were to be U2 singer Bono and Bob Geldof, organiser of the Live 8 anti-poverty concerts last year.
The idea for the fund came from Brown's Treasury and Britain's Department for International Development. It has also been supported financially by Brazil, France, Italy, Norway, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.