Tegucigalpa, 25 April 2012 (PAHO) — Honduras launched its Vaccination Week on April 25 with Health Secretary, Dr. Arturo Bendaña, accompanied by Dr. Socorro Gross, Assistant Director of the Pan American Health Organization and Bill Gates (senior) on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The event took place during the tenth Vaccination Week in the Americas and the first World Immunization Week.
Vaccination Week in the Americas, the largest multinational health initiative in the region, became a global initiative this year with the celebration of the first World Immunization Week, which has brought together over 180 countries and regions around the world.
"Vaccines are one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions we have. They prevent nearly 3 million deaths every year. That is a lot of love," affirmed Gates, who remarked that he was personally moved by the theme "Vaccination is an Act of Love" of this year's Vaccination Week in the Americas. He commented that he helps his son Bill and his wife Melinda run the Foundation, which is guided by the belief that "every life has equal value."
"One of the best ways to do that—to give everyone a chance at a healthy and productive life—is to improve child health worldwide. So that has always been the focus of our foundation. When we got started about a decade ago, we couldn't believe that so many children were dying from preventable diseases," asserted Gates senior. "As we learned more, we discovered that countries like Honduras were already doing something about it, by putting effective immunization programs in place," he added.
The Secretary of Health of Honduras pointed out that prevention activities are stepped up during Vaccination Week through the immunization of children, teenagers, young adults, and pregnant women.
"We have to keep working, making an effort, and taking our policies a step further in order to maintain the benefits that we have achieved thus far with regard to vaccination," asserted Dr. Bendaña. "Vaccines can mean the difference between a smile and a tear, because vaccines save lives," he underscored.
"We join together today to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Vaccination Week in the Americas, an activity that unites all nations, border communities, all peoples, regardless of race, religion, and borders," said Dr. Gross. "But also today, we become part of the dream that this week, thousands of health workers and volunteers are vaccinating millions of children around the world, saving lives and bringing health," added PAHO's Assistant Director in reference to World Immunization Week.
Gina Watson, PAHO's representative in Honduras also attended the ceremony, which took place in Francisco Morazán Central Plaza in the Honduran capital. The event, which officially launched the national vaccination campaign as well as the follow-up campaign against measles and rubella, featured an artistic presentation and symbolic vaccinations.
Meanwhile, on 24 April, the PAHO team and staff of the Ministry of Health's Expanded Program on Immunization accompanied Mr. Gates senior on his visit to learn about the health services and the National Center for Biologicals and to assess first-hand the cost-effectiveness of vaccination efforts in the country. Gates also met with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and with Dr. Bendaña.
For her part, on 27 April, Dr. Gross will participate in Cross-border Vaccination Day, which will take place in Metapán, El Salvador, with the participation of the health authorities of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. She will be accompanied by Dr. Gina Watson, PAHO/WHO representative in Honduras, and Dr. Cuauhtémoc Ruiz and Alba María Ropero, the Organization's advisers on immunization.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Hemisphere and it serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).