The world could be entering a “decade of vaccinations” if pharmaceutical companies make jabs affordable for all countries, computer guru Bill Gates has claimed.

Speaking at the 64th World Health Assembly in Geneva, the Microsoft founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said vaccinations are the best method of eradicating infectious disease, being “inexpensive” and “easy to deliver” with “proven” results.

Poor and rich countries should enjoy equal assistance, he added, but in order for developing countries to benefit, pharmaceutical companies will need to make their products affordable for all. Gates said he is confident the combined price of the pentavalent, pneumococcus and rotavirus vaccines could be cut in half by 2015.

Meanwhile, he believes increased donations and leadership – from governments to non-government organisations – are also required as vaccinations are “only ever as effective as the leaders delivering it”.

With combined effort, 10 million lives could be saved by 2020 and this 'decade of vaccinations' could see polio completely eradicated with five or six new vaccinations available in all countries, Gates said. A 90% vaccination rate will be required in each country for this success to be achieved, he believes.

Health  'cornerstone of global prosperity'

The fight against polio is proof such ambitions are achievable as vaccinations have reduced polio by 99% in the last 23 years, he said. “I believe we have the opportunity to make a new future in which global health is the cornerstone of global prosperity.”

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Gates specified African leaders in particular must work harder, as “their sluggishness could derail efforts to save millions of lives and stamp out deadly diseases”.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations welcomed the comments made by Gates, saying “the accelerated introduction of new vaccines is a critical component of global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to reduce morbidity and mortality from vaccine preventable diseases.”

To recognise “pioneering global health leaders”, the Gates Foundation will from 2012 award the most “uniquely innovative contribution” to the 'decade of vaccinations'. This could come from the “science, delivery or funding of vaccines”.