11/28/2014 10:13 EST | Updated 01/28/2015 05:59 EST

Immunization funding of $500M pledged by Canada for poor countries

Canada will provide $500 million to help immunize children in developing countries, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today in Senegal.

The money is part of the $3.5 billion committed by Canada for maternal, newborn and child health to be spent between 2015 and 2020. Harper announced that funding last May at the Saving Every Woman Every Child summit in Toronto.

Harper, in Senegal for the annual Francophonie Summit, pledged the money to the GAVI Alliance, which aims to speed up the introduction of basic, inexpensive vaccines that weren't previously available in developing countries, according to the news release from the Prime Minister's Office. 

GAVI lets governments in the 56 poorest countries — those with a per-capita gross national income of less than US $1,550 — apply for the funding.

GAVI had called for financing for its 2016-2020 strategy, which set a goal of immunizing an additional 300 million children. GAVI estimates that will save the lives of five million to six million children.

Harper has made maternal, newborn and child health a focus of Canadian international development funding since 2010, the year Canada hosted the G8 and G20 summits. Canada pledged $2.85 billion that year for maternal and child health, including immunization programs, under a plan known as the Muskoka Initiative.

More funding for immunization, Ebola care

Childhood immunization is one of the most cost-effective solutions to ensure child survival. 

The PMO says global reduction of child deaths from nearly 12 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012 is due in large part to the scaling up of essential vaccinations.

Canada will also contribute $20 million for immunization in central and west African countries that are part of the Francophonie. That money will also go to GAVI and is part of the $2.85 billion pledged in the 2010 Muskoka Initiative.

International Development Minister Christian Paradis also has announced Canada will provide an additional $20.9 million to humanitarian organizations fighting Ebola, including $5 million to the French Red Cross to support the operation of Ebola treatment centres in Guinea.