Belize hosts PAHO/WHO’s 37th Meeting of the Caribbean Immunization Managers to strengthen the Expanded Programme on Immunization in the subregion

30 Oct 2023
37th Caribbean EPI Meeting in Belize
30 Oct 2023

Belize City, Belize, October 30, 2023 (PAHO) – Immunization managers from across the Caribbean region will gather to strengthen the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) as the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Belize hosts the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) 37th annual meeting of the Caribbean Immunization Managers.

“Immunization is a fundamental key to good health and wellbeing and the evidence remains that vaccination is a public good and one of the most cost-effective interventions in health. Vaccination coverage is a good indicator of the performance of the Essential Health Services at the first level of care and also of universal health coverage,” said Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell, PAHO/WHO Representative in Belize. “To effectively plan, prepare and execute activities to improve coverage and ensure sustained capacities for early detection and response to outbreaks of measles, rubella, polio and other serious illnesses, which are vaccine-preventable, it is necessary to conduct a thorough review of where we are, the gaps in operations and to discuss the strategies for improvement. This is and has always been the main purpose of the Caribbean EPI Managers’ Meeting.”

With over 60 participants from some 25 countries and territories meeting to analyze achievements and challenges in 2022-2023 and planning activities for the upcoming year 2024, the immunization managers and other participants will share experiences on their country’s immunization programs. This will allow for candid discussions and sharing of innovative strategies to strengthen the EPI in the subregion and regain the high vaccination coverage for which the Caribbean was well-known and globally recognized.

Through this meeting, the participants will also:

  • Review the status of the EPI program in the Region of the Americas and the Caribbean and identify areas that require strengthening.
  • Discuss the status in countries in the surveillance and management of vaccine-preventable diseases and areas that require strengthening.
  • Update information on selective topics of common interest to countries relating to immunization, service delivery, and surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Share country experiences in sustaining polio eradication and measles/rubella elimination.

The meeting will also feature a workshop titled 'Effective Communication for Vaccine Uptake.' This workshop will emphasize risk communication and community engagement, with a special focus on inclusive and culturally sensitive communication practices. At the end of this week-long meeting, the Caribbean countries will have joint agreements with coordinated innovative strategies and key activities that will sustain the elimination and prevention of vaccine-preventable diseases in the region.

“Our current time demands from us to move forward as there have been an important number of good practices in regard to the EPI and how to increase coverages, but something that the COVID-19 pandemic made very evident is that we need to have resilient EPI programs,” shared Dr. Daniel Salas, Executive Manager of PAHO’s Special Program on Comprehensive Immunization. “We need to have a life course approach, especially in the Caribbean. It is true that the vaccination program started with children, but now there is a need to have coverage for all groups – adolescents and adults.”

Although this will only be the second time (the first occurring in 2004) that Belize is hosting this meeting, Belize has long played a crucial role in immunization. Mr. Henry Smith, a Belizean national, served as the first PAHO Immunization Advisor for the Caribbean. He provided technical oversight and guidance to national EPI managers and developed the Immunization Coverage Monitoring Chart tool, which is still used across the region to monitor and enhance coverage.

“Our focus is more than just sustaining the progress we have made – it is about reversing the setbacks incurred due to the pandemic and ensuring the development of robust resilient healthcare systems that can weather any storm that the future might hold,” said Hon. Kevin Bernard, Minister of the Ministry of Health and Wellness Belize. “In the coming days, I am confident that your collective wisdom will give rise to innovative and effective strategies that will profoundly shape the future of our public health in our region. The only forward is together. Only through collaboration can we build a healthier safer world for all.”

The EPI was first launched by WHO in 1974 and expanded to the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean in September 1977. By 1980, the programme was fully established in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member counties and with annual review and planning meetings for the EPI managers.

37th EPI Meeting in Belize