|Massive Multi-Country Drive Aims to Vaccinate 30 Million People|
7th Annual Vaccination Week in the Americas will reach out to children and adults in 44 countries and territories of the Western Hemisphere
Washington/ Panama City, April 22, 2009 — Countries from throughout the Americas are gearing up to participate in the Western Hemisphere’s largest multi-country health effort, Vaccination Week in the Americas, April 25–May 2, 2009.
The 35 Member Countries of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), along with nine territories, are finalizing local strategies and logistics for this year’s initiative in cooperation with UNICEF, the seventh such event since 2003. The goal this year is to vaccinate some 30 million people against diseases including polio, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, measles, diphtheria, mumps, whooping cough, tetanus and neonatal tetanus, H. influenzae type b (Hib), yellow fever, and influenza.
The principal kick-off events are planned in the South American Chaco region, on the border between Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The first will be in Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay, and Yacuiba, Bolivia, on April 26, and the second in Tartagal, Argentina, on April 27. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo is scheduled to help kick off the week by participating, and other presidents, including Argentina’s Cristina Fernández and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, have also been invited.
Two special themes for this year’s effort are family vaccination and vaccination for health workers.
“This year, we’re reminding people that ‘Vaccination is a Family Affair’,” said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses. “Immunization is essential for children, but it’s also important for the whole family. There are vaccine-preventable diseases that affect adolescents, adults, and senior citizens, and these groups can benefit from vaccination as well as children.”
In conjunction with celebrations of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, April 28, organizers are rallying special efforts to vaccinate Latin American and Caribbean health workers, who face high occupational risk but have low rates of vaccination coverage against diseases such as hepatitis b, influenza, measles, and rubella.
As in past years, countries are making special efforts to reach population groups that have not always been reached in national immunization efforts, including indigenous and geographically isolated communities. PAHO is helping to produce social communication materials—including posters, stickers, and video public service announcements—in various languages, including indigenous languages, and featuring such widely known figures as Spanish-language TV host “Don Francisco” and cartoon characters from Sesame Street.
“We have seen impressive achievements in terms of disease eradication and elimination,” says Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “But we still have an unfinished agenda in terms of immunization coverage levels. In general, 44 percent of all municipalities for all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are not achieving the goal of 95 percent coverage with three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus and we need to change that.”
Other international events featuring presidents, ministers, governors, and local authorities are planned for the border areas of the United States and Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, ColombiaBrazil, and Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, among others. and
The main U.S.-Mexico border event will be held April 27 at the San Isidro Health Center in San Diego, California, also marking National Infant Immunization Week. PAHO Assistant Director Dr. Socorro Gross is slated to join county and state officials from California and Mexico.
A number of countries plan to couple immunization efforts with other health promotion activities, including health education, counseling on prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and administration of vitamin A and antiparasitic medication.
For the first time, this year’s Vaccination Week has the support of a country outside the Western Hemisphere. France is supporting joint immunization efforts between French Guiana and Suriname.
PAHO Director Roses sees momentum building for an eventual World Vaccination Week. Europe is holding its fourth European Immunization Week on April 20–26, modeled on the Vaccination Week in the Americas initiative, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Region is planning a pilot vaccination week for 2010.
“We look forward to seeing countries from all regions come together to spread the benefits of immunization around the globe,” said Roses.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).