Every Country in the Americas Joins Vaccination Week
Washington, DC, February 9, 2004 (PAHO)—Countries from Canada to the tip of South America and throughout the Caribbean plan to take part in an unprecedented Vaccination Week in the Americas, set for the end of April. Millions of children, young women, and some seniors, mostly in remote areas, will be the beneficiaries.
"This is a tremendous effort," said Dr. Mirta Roses, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). "It is a show of true Pan Americanism, a demonstration of the strong commitment to work together to improve the health of the people of the Americas, especially the children."
Roses stressed that the vaccination week, scheduled for April 24-30, will highlight the need for routine vaccinations to improve coverage, especially in rural areas, and will promote access to health services. "We do not see this as another campaign, but rather as an extraordinary opportunity to reach those who all too often are left behind," she said.
All of the countries outlined their plans and activities at a special meeting coordinated by PAHO and held last week in Quito, Ecuador. The majority of the countries planned to vaccinate children under 5, along with women of childbearing age and senior citizens. The United States and Canada will take part with informational events seeking to increase the number of children who receive vaccinations against preventable illnesses.
Vaccination Week in the Americas was first held last year. The idea originated in the Andean region when ministers of health agreed to boost declining vaccination rates. The initiative grew quickly to include 19 countries, where some 15 million children were vaccinated. The countries rallied around the theme "Vaccination: An Act of Love."
Following last year's success, the ministers of health at their annual meeting at PAHO in September agreed to hold the first-ever vaccination week of all the regionís countries this April. Each country set out goals, deciding on which antigens should be used and which areas should be targeted. As was the case last year, most of the countries are planning special events in border areas.
The countries identified areas of high risk and exclusion as poor peri-urban areas, borders, indigenous regions, areas with displaced or isolated populations, and tourist areas. In addition to ending measles, several of the countries are working to end rubella, known as German measles. Although the anticipated total numbers are not yet fully known, the goal is to exceed last year's totals.
"We have an opportunity to mobilize resources and political commitment to serve children who otherwise do not receive regular health services," said Dr. Jon Andrus, chief of PAHO's Immunization Unit. "These children live in the poorest, most difficult to serve areas. The efforts put forth by all PAHO member countries will allow the region to sustain the progress achieved in the elimination of measles and neonatal tetanus in the Americas, while also promoting equity in health services."
Among the keys to last year's vaccination successes were social communication campaigns set up in each of the countries. PAHO sent out radio and television spots, posters, and news releases to the media to promote the week. This year, radio spots will be produced in indigenous languages and dialects for several countries, and materials will be targeted to specific areas.
On-site evaluations indicated that most parents heard about last year's vaccination week on radio or television. Several entertainers, including TV celebrity Don Francisco, offered their time to promote the event. This year, the countries agreed to include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) theme "Love Them, Protect Them, Immunize Them."
Many of the countries this year are planning special launches, special walks and health fairs. In the Caribbean, for example, most countries have set up special planning committees to coordinate events.
This year's Vaccination Week in the Americas enjoys the support of many partners, including the Government of Spain, UNICEF, the Red Cross, USAID, the CDC, CIDA, the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations Foundation, and several service clubs such as Rotary International and Kiwanis.
All of the countries in the Americas are PAHO Member States. PAHO was founded 100 years ago and serves as the regional office of the World Health Organization. Vaccination Week in the Americas is an example of PAHOís joint work to collaborate with its Member States and lead strategic efforts to promote health for all.