TORONTO - The Canadian government and Bill Gates announced an initiative Tuesday to establish a research institute to develop an HIV vaccine, committing a total of $119 million to the project.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government has pledged $95.3 million to a new fund called the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has promised up to $24 million.
Gates' $33 billion foundation has become a world leader in fighting AIDS and other epidemic diseases as well as extreme poverty, particularly in the developing world.
"Between Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we will contribute to the effort to develop a safe, effective, affordable and globally accessible HIV vaccine," Harper said alongside Gates in the capital, Ottawa.
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"HIV/AIDS is one of the most heart-wrenching health crises the world has ever seen," said Harper. "It is one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time."
The money will help build a new research facility and support Canadian scientists to work with partners around the world. The goal is the manufacture of a preventative vaccine within a decade.
Gates noted that the Canadian initiative would come under the umbrella of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, a global alliance of independent organizations established in 2003 that is dedicated to the development of a preventative HIV vaccine.
"At that time, we recognized that no single company or government alone could take on this challenge, that in fact a number of organizations would need to work together," said the Microsoft co-founder.
The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise estimates there were nearly 5 million new HIV infections in 2005, and that nearly 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
Gates noted that because of the success of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other partnerships between governments and the private sector, the number of HIV-positive people receiving antiretroviral treatment has gone up to 1.4 million.
"But that still falls very far short of the number of new people being infected each year," he said. "I think scientists would agree that this will be one of the toughest vaccines ever to create, but it therefore needs to be a priority."
AIDS has killed more than 20 million people worldwide, is the leading cause of death in Africa, and the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide.
Harper came under criticism in August when he declined to address a global summit on AIDS held in Canada's financial capital, Toronto, that included former President Clinton, Gates and his wife Melinda.