The Holy Father praised the initiative during the audience held today, and encouraged the international community in the search and production of new vaccines.
With funding from Italy, Canada, Norway, Russia and Britain, the plan targets pneumococcal disease, a major cause of pneumonia and meningitis that kills 1.6 million people every year. It also has the support of the World Bank.
The pneumococcal project is the first of a series of "Advanced Market Commitments," or plans that secure funds to purchase vaccines. Vaccine markets in developing countries are often small and risky, and pharmaceutical companies do not expect vaccines sold in poor countries to be profitable.
This "worthy initiative," explained Benedict XVI in English, "is meant to help resolve one of the most pressing challenges in preventative health care, one which particularly affects nations already suffering from poverty and serious needs."
The Pope added: "It has the further merit of bringing together public institutions and the private sector in an effort to find the most effective means of intervening in this area."
The Holy Father encouraged "wholeheartedly ... this new program and its goal of advancing scientific research directed to the discovery of new vaccines."
"Such vaccines are urgently needed to prevent millions of human beings, including countless children, from dying each year of infectious diseases, especially in those areas of our world at greatest risk," the Pontiff said.
Closing the gap
According to Benedict XVI, "In this era of globalized markets, we are all concerned about the growing gap between the standard of living in countries enjoying great wealth and a high level of technological development, and that of underdeveloped countries where poverty persists and is even increasing.
"The creative and promising initiative ... seeks to counter this trend, since it aims to create 'future' markets for vaccines, primarily those capable of preventing infant mortality."
The Holy Father assured "the Holy See's full support of this humanitarian project, which is inspired by that spirit of human solidarity which our world needs in order to overcome every form of selfishness and to foster the peaceful coexistence of peoples."
Italian Economy Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa opened the ceremony for the launch in Rome. He said: "The objective is to stimulate research of vaccines for sicknesses that infect the poor countries. It is necessary to contradict the idea that the market and philanthropy are antithetical."
Britain's Treasury chief Gordon Brown said he hoped similar projects could address other deadly diseases, such as malaria.
Queen Rania of Jordan and the president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, were also present at the audience with the Pope.