During November 17– 21, 2008, the Bahamas was host to the Caribbean Managers of the Expanded Program on Immunization as they convened their 25th Annual Meeting at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas. This meeting was sponsored by the Regional Immunization Program, based at PAHO’s Headquarters in Washington, DC, USA; the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre located in Port-of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago [CAREC/PAHO/WHO]; the Ministry of Health of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas; and PAHO/WHO Bahamas Representation.
The opening ceremony, chaired by the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health of the Bahamas, Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, featured a Parade of Flags by the Royal Bahamas Defense Force and musical renditions by the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band. The PAHO/WHO Representative for the Bahamas, Dr. Merle Lewis, congratulated the EPI managers on their achievements over the past twenty-five (25) years and noted that a number of successful partnerships had been forged in order to extend protection for children through vaccination. She further stated that the EPI managers had not only achieved important milestones in disease elimination but that they had also won gold medals for being the first sub-region to achieve measles, rubella and CRS elimination. She also noted that The Governments of the countries of the Caribbean Community had played a pivotal role in providing appropriate funding for their national immunization programs.
The objectives of the meeting were reviewed by the PAHO Regional Coordinator of the Comprehensive Family Immunization Project, Dr. Cuauhtémoc Ruiz-Matus, who also gave a brief history of the EPI in the Caribbean. He noted that under the technical guidance of the PAHO/WHO sub-regional Immunization Officer, the Caribbean EPI embarked upon a full implementation phase during the years 1978 to 1980. By the end of 1980, each country had identified a program manager responsible for the planning and implementation of the EPI. The first EPI course on Planning, Management and Evaluation was held in St. Kitts, during December 5-14, 1979. During 1981, EPI training workshops were conducted in 9 countries with the aim of improving immunization coverage through better planning, management and evaluation procedures. This led to the first Caribbean EPI Managers’ Sub-regional meeting, which was held in Kingston, Jamaica during September 14-18, 1981. Dr. Ruiz-Matus also publicly acknowledged a special invitee, Mr. Henry C. Smith, who was the first Immunization Officer for the sub-region, and noted that Mr. Smith had played a catalytic role in the origin of EPI Managers meetings.
The keynote address of this meeting was given by the Honorable Dr. Hubert A. Minnis, Member of Parliament and Minister of Health, who noted that since the inception of the immunization program in the 1970s, The Bahamas had achieved high vaccination coverage of administered antigens and had, consequently, experienced a reduction in morbidity and mortality from vaccine preventable diseases. He attributed the affordability of the vaccines to the use of the PAHO Revolving Fund. The Bahamas, in taking an aggressive approach to protect the wealth and health of their nation, have ensured that disease surveillance was timely and effective and that the EPI remained a priority, even though there are economic challenges. The Minister pointed out that a major challenge because the Bahamas will need to identify or create fiscal space in its budget in order to procure new vaccines. He reiterated that the country and the collective mission were to eradicate, eliminate or reduce vaccine-preventable diseases as an integral part of primary health care. He wished participants a fruitful and productive meeting as they work to combat the global challenges of the immunization program.
The purpose of each of the annual sub-regional meetings of the Immunization Program was defined as follows:
This meeting was attended by over 80 persons from 19 CAREC Member countries as well as Martinique, the United States and international agencies. Attendees included not only participants from the Ministry of Health, but also representatives from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], CAREC, PAHO’s Headquarters and PAHO Offices in the Caribbean sub-region, namely, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname.