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Paramaribo, 26 April, 2010-Originally launched in 2003, Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA) is an annual hemispheric event, endorsed by the Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization. VWA was initially proposed in 2002 by the Ministers of Health in the Andean Region following a measles outbreak in Venezuela and Colombia. Since its inception, over 288 million people of a variety of ages have been vaccinated against such illnesses as measles, rubella, polio, hepatitis B, influenza, diphtheria, and tetanus. 

Since its inception in the Region, VWA activities have strengthened national immunization programs, focusing on vaccinating difficult-to-reach populations in impoverished communities, border and rural areas, and in minority populations. As a result of VWA, more than 288 million individuals have been vaccinated to date. Additionally, VWA social communication campaigns, launching events, and press coverage have highlighted the importance of vaccination as a Regional public good.

This year, multiple VWA launching events are being organized, including events in Nicaragua, on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and on the border between Suriname and French Guiana. This last event will serve as the first ever bi-Regional launch, linking the vaccination weeks of the Americas and Europe. The Regional slogan for VWA 2010 is "Reaching Everyone."

On 27 April, PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses will travel to St. Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana, for a tri-national border launching event uniting French Guiana, Suriname and Brazil. Suriname's minister of health and high-level health officials from all three countries are also expected to take part. After the launching in St. Laurent, the delegation will travel to the policlinic in Albina, to launch the activities in Suriname. A full program of activities has been planned there for the week, including a health fair and vaccination activities involving the family as whole and special high risk occupational groups. The Medical Mission and the Regional Health Services have also planned local vaccination and health education activities for risk groups, in their respective areas.

In addition to this launching, national health authorities from both countries will implement a series of workshops targeting health workers in the border villages along the Marowijne River, to share immunization practices and experiences. Due to the continuous displacement of border populations, immunization of a child does not always occur in the child’s country of origin; often immunization activities are carried out in the neighboring country. This presents additional challenges in the registration and follow-up of vaccination activities (administration of second, third, and booster doses).

The main objective of the workshops is to familiarize health workers in the use and interpretation of the vaccination record/card from their neighboring country, given that the cards are printed in different languages (Dutch, Portuguese, and English in the case of Suriname and French in the case of French Guiana). Workshops are scheduled to take place during VWA in three border cities and villages: Saint Laurent, Stoelmanseiland and Maripasula. In addition, the two countries have committed to strengthening the reporting and sharing of epidemiological information and vaccination coverage data.

Despite language barriers, the authorities have constituted a mechanism of articulation that resulted in the identification and discussion of common problems related to immunization and the exploration of joint solutions. This project has also made it possible to strengthen the coordination and communication between staff members and technical health personnel at the local (border areas) and national levels, which will benefit future immunization projects.

The success of VWA has served as a model for other Regions of the World Health Organization (WHO); in 2005 the European Region (EURO) of WHO launched European Immunization Week (EIW) and in 2010 the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO) of the WHO will launch their first Vaccination Week (VWEM). All three initiatives are supported by Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. It is hoped that other Regions will come on board in order to achieve a global vaccination week in the near future.    

Country and territory participation in VWA is flexible and goals and activities for the initiative are chosen in accordance with national health objectives. While some countries conduct large scale vaccination campaigns, others focus exclusively on communication initiatives and health promotion efforts. Many countries also use VWA as a platform for the integration of other preventive interventions with vaccination, such as the administration of vitamin A, folic acid, anti-parasite medication, and health education, among other activities.

The goal for the Vaccination Week 2010 in the Region is to promote equity and access to immunizations, and Pan-Americanism. The target population consists of children under 5 years of age, pregnant women, elderly populations, border and isolated populations, indigenous populations and low coverage municipalities.  Key country activities in the Region will focus on campaigns to strengthen the routine program and improve vaccination coverage rates, vaccination against pandemic influenza, vaccination of occupational risk groups and social communication campaigns.

Forty-four countries and territories of the Western Hemisphere will reach out during the VWA to an estimated 42 million children and adults with vaccines. Tens of thousands of health workers and volunteers in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean are pledged to support the effort. With the slogan "Reaching Everyone," Vaccination Week in the Americas this year is placing priority on reaching groups that otherwise have limited access to health services and are at higher risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases. These include residents of urban fringe areas, indigenous communities, and people living in rural and border areas. The initiative is also prioritizing municipalities throughout the region that have vaccination rates of under 80 percent.

VWA is an initiative of the countries and territories of the Americas who plan and carry-out national VWA activities and document results. PAHO headquarters in Washington, DC provides support through technical and financial assistance during the initiative. Other key partners include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), The Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI), multiple NGOs, and local authorities, among many others.
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