Page last updated at 19:38 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 20:38 UK

Aid deal pledges free health care

Mother and sick child in Malawi (Oct 2005)
Malawi is one of the countries to benefit from the aid deal

At least 10 million people in developing nations will get access to free health care, in an aid deal spearheaded by UK PM Gordon Brown.

Nepal, Malawi, Ghana, Liberia, Burundi and Sierra Leone say they will expand access to health services as part of the programme.

The plan, unveiled at the United Nations, is backed by $5bn (£3bn) from states and the online travel industry.

Mr Brown said the world must be "shamed" into stopping child deaths.

'Turning point'

For the past year, Mr Brown and the director of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, have been leading an international taskforce to raise money to help improve health care in developing countries.

Of the $5bn committed, an estimated $3bn (£1.8bn) will come from voluntary contributions solicited by the online travel industry.

The balance is being raised by the United Kingdom, Austria, Norway and the Netherlands, through an extension of the international finance facility which raises money on capital markets through government bonds which will be repaid from future aid budgets.

Mr Brown said the UK's contribution would be worth £250m ($410m).

In the years ahead we will see a shift in approach that will revolutionise health services in the world's poorest countries
Douglas Alexander
International Development Secretary

The programme's initial focus will be to help mothers and young children in an effort to reduce high levels of maternal and infant mortality.

The UK will also share health expertise through a Centre for Progressive Health Financing, Mr Brown told the programme's launch in New York.

In an article to mark the launch, Mr Brown said: "A few pence is the price of life or death for millions.

"Burundi, Nepal, Malawi, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia have taken major steps towards the provision of free services.

"I hope today it will be a turning point, a day when the battle to provide healthcare to all and abolish user fees won a significant victory."

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said it was "appalling" that people were dying because they could not afford basic treatment.

He added: "Poor health and poverty go hand-in-hand and so we must first improve people's health if we are to improve their lives.

"This won't happen overnight but we hope in the years ahead we will see a shift in approach that will revolutionise health services in the world's poorest countries."

The Nepalese Prime Minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, was expected to express his commitment to improving the health of women and children in his country when he addressed the event in New York.

In Nepal - the only non-African country targeted by the scheme - 80% of women are believed to give birth at home, and every day six women are estimated to die from childbirth. Infant mortality is also high, with one in sixteen children dying before they reach the age of five.

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