NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Bill and Melinda Gates on Friday made the largest donation ever to a single cause: $10 billion to develop vaccines for the world's poorest nations.
The 10-year goal is to reduce child mortality by spurring vaccine investments by governments and the private sector, the Gates Foundation announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
"Vaccines already save and improve millions of lives in developing countries," Bill Gates, the founder and former chief executive of Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), said in a statement. "Innovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before."
The $10 billion investment is the biggest pledge ever made by a charitable organization to a single cause, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper covering nonprofits.
The commitment is larger than the entire assets of the Ford Foundation, the second wealthiest foundation in America with about $9.6 billion, the Chronicle said. The Gates Foundation, with $34 billion in assets, is the largest U.S. philanthropy.
But even an investment of this size is not enough to cover all the health needs of developing nations, Bill Gates told CNNMoney's Poppy Harlow in Davos.
"We need the governments in both rich and poor countries to come along," he said.
While the funds will support many vaccine-related activities, the foundation said billions more are needed to achieve the foundation's goal of immunizing 90% of children in the developing world.
"The Gates Foundation's commitment to vaccines is unprecedented, but just a small part of what is needed," said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.
The investment aims to prevent the deaths of some 7.6 million children under age 5 through 2019 by increasing delivery of life-saving vaccines for ailments such as severe diarrhea and pneumonia to the developing world.
The foundation estimates that an additional 1.1 million children could be saved with the rapid introduction of a malaria vaccine beginning in 2014, bringing the total number of potential lives saved to 8.7 million. Even more could be saved if vaccines are developed for other illnesses, such as tuberculosis, that are common in developing countries, the charity said.
"Vaccines are a miracle," Melinda Gates, co-founder and co-chair of the foundation, said in a statement. "With just a few doses, they can prevent deadly diseases for a lifetime."
The foundation has already committed $4.5 billion to vaccine research, including $1.5 billion to the GAVI Alliance, which works to expand childhood immunization.
The Seattle-based foundation has a dual mandate. Globally, it seeks to enhance the quality of health care and reduce poverty. In the United States, it works to expand educational opportunities and widen access to information technology.
Over the last ten years, the foundation has given grants totaling $21.08 billion to organizations such as the World Food Program, the United Negro College Fund and others.
The investment announced Friday is unprecedented in size, philanthropy experts said. The $10 billion commitment dwarfs previous records, including the $1 billion pledge Ted Turner made to the United Nations in 1998.
Turner, the media mogul who founded CNN, created the United Nations Foundation to help the UN aid developing countries.
Bill Gates, the world's richest man, has devoted most of his time to philanthropy since he left his day-to-day role as chairman of Microsoft in 2008. He remains part-time chairman of the software giant.
Gates, who recently donated $1.5 million for relief efforts in Haiti, said the impoverished Caribbean nation is going to need financial support for several years as it struggles to recover from a devastating earthquake.
"The goal in Haiti should not be to get Haiti back to where it was before," Gates said in an interview with CNNMoney.
"There's going to be a need for investment not just in the next six months: It's going to take several years, so I hope we can sustain the attention there," he added.
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