Cartagena, Colombia, 13 April 2012 (PAHO/WHO) — The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), with support from partner organizations, launched the 10th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas on April 13 in the lead-up to the VI Summit of the Americas, being held this weekend in Cartagena, Colombia.
"What began as a proposal of the Andean countries has become what we know today as Vaccination Week in the Americas," said PAHO Director Mirta Roses Periago in a launching event at the Social Forum prior to the Summit of the Americas. "This year, recognizing the efforts of our region's countries to promote equity and equality, the first World Immunization Week is being held."
Dr. Roses presided over the launch with the participation of Heraldo Muñoz, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP); Alicia Bárcena, Executive Director of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); Enrique Iglesias, Secretary General of the Ibero-American Summit organization; and representatives of Colombian institutions, nongovernmental organizations and indigenous communities, among others.
Vaccination Week in the Americas is the hemisphere's largest multinational health initiative and seeks to promote equity and access to vaccination. More than 365 million children and adults have been vaccinated in the last nine years as part of the initiative. In the coming weeks, events will be held throughout the Americas as part of Vaccination Week in the Americas 2012, whose theme is "For me, for you, for everyone: Get vaccinated!"
"Vaccination is the most cost-effective tool that we have in public health," said Dr. Roses. "It is the only one that reaches everyone, regardless of sex or where one was born. And it's free."
After congratulating PAHO/WHO for its efforts promoting Vaccination Week in the Americas, Enrique Iglesias said that launching this year's initiative in the lead-up to the Summit of the Americas "shows public opinion what these things are for and what international organizations are for. Too often there is a lack of awareness of what is behind these actions, which save thousands of lives."
Vaccination Week in the Americas "helps the region's countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals" of the United Nations, said Heraldo Muñoz, of UNDP. "This vaccination campaign is a tremendous help to us in achieving many of these goals by 2015. It is a major leap toward achieving them."
Alicia Bárcena of ECLAC said the initiative means that "vaccination in the Americas is reaching everyone. This is equality, and that's what ECLAC stands for."
Diego García, Director of Colombia's National Immunization Program, praised the political commitment reflected in Vaccination Week in the Americas, along with the support and leadership of international agencies.
The launch took place in the Exhibition Hall following the special Social Forum that was held this week in preparation for the VI Summit of the Americas, which begins April 14. On display at the same venue is the PAHO photo exhibit Vaccination: An Act of Love, which includes photos from Vaccination Week in the Americas during the past nine years.
Vaccination Week activities are aimed at strengthening national immunization programs in the Americas and reaching populations that have poor access to regular health services, including communities in ex-urban areas, rural and border areas, and indigenous groups. This year, 45 countries and territories of the Americas are planning to participate in the initiative.
"This does not mean that countries don't vaccinate every day of the year. This is a week for solidarity and for thinking what we still need to do," said Dr. Roses. "This is what we are all working together for: to harmonize the efforts around the world."
The success of Vaccination Week in the Americas has provided a model for other regions of WHO. This year 180 countries and territories around the world are expected to participate in the first World Immunization Week, whose theme is "Protect your world: Get vaccinated."
Immunization is one of the most cost-effective and successful interventions in public health, able to prevent some 2-3 million deaths globally each year.
PAHO was established in 1902 and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
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