Pope and UK Chancellor join forces on major child vaccination programme

By staff writers
February 12, 2007

Both the Vatican and the UK government have declared themselves pleased with the private audience that UK Chancellor Gordon Brown enjoyed with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome last week.

The meeting took place on Friday 9 February 2007 in connection with the promotion of a scheme to provide life-saving vaccines for millions of children located in the Global South.

During the audience, Mr Brown, who is the son of a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) minister and a member of the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM), he invited the pontiff to visit Britain – renewing an invitation extended by Prime Minister Tony Blair last year (2006).

Observers say that the meeting is indicative of Mr Brown’s growing status internationally, and his desire to take over as leader of the Labour Party and PM when Mr Blair retires later in 2007 – on a date yet to be specified.

Mr Brown presented Benedict with a book of sermons preached by his father, and in return the Pope gave him the traditional Vatican medal. The Rev Dr John Ebenezer Brown died in 1998 aged 84 years. He was minister at St Brycedale Church in Kirkcaldy.

The UK Chancellor, who has worked hard to get debt relief for the world’s poorest nations high up the political agenda, has on several occasions cited his father’s faith as a formative and guiding influence on him.

His personal advisers include US progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis, and British chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks.

Earlier on the same day, Mr Brown met the Pope together with Queen Rania of Jordan, Paul Wolfowitz, head of the World Bank, and a small group of other finance ministers to discuss development concerns.

Later, at the Italian Treasury, the Chancellor helped launch the new Advance Market Commitment for Vaccines.

The programme envisages a worldwide total of £760 million to encourage pharmaceutical firms to research and develop new vaccines for the Global South – and specifically those too poor to pay. Britain has pledged £249 million towards the total.

The first vaccine will target pneumococcal diseases, which cause pneumonia and meningitis. Mr Brown said he hoped that the programme would save more than five million children from an early death by 2030.

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