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Bill Gates, Canada team up to fight AIDS

OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was blasted for shunning AIDS talks in 2006, and software mogul Bill Gates pledged funding to accelerate the development of anHIV/AIDS vaccine.

Ottawa will contribute 111 million Canadian dollars (95 million US) toward international research efforts and to build a Canadian facility to make vaccine candidates for use in clinical trials, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will provide 28 million Canadian dollars (24 million US).

The collaboration will "accelerate the pace towards the discovery of an HIV vaccine ... move vaccines to the clinical trial stage more quickly and improve access to an eventual vaccine," Harper told reporters.

The result would spare "millions of people from the horrific reality of HIV-AIDS," he said.

Bill Gates echoed Harper, saying the funding will "make a big difference."

"Most scientists think that it probably will take more than ten years (to create a vaccine). We could get lucky, it could happen sooner than that. But with all tough problems, the more energy we put into it, clearly that's going to cut down the amount of time required," he said.

Gates and his wife, in a keynote speech at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in August vowed that the mighty cheque-wielding charity that bears his name would make AIDS its top priority.

In the run-up to the six-day AIDS meet that attracted 21,000 delegates, the Gates Foundation announced help of 500 million dollars to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, bringing their pledges to the agency to 650 million dollars.

This came only weeks after a contribution of 287 million dollars to speed the development of an HIV vaccine. The Foundation stumped up 60 million dollars for microbicide research in 2003, and 50 million dollars for Botswana in 2000.

Harper meanwhile was criticized for not attending the conference and for postponing a much-anticipated AIDS funding announcement, until now.