Haiti to Participate in Vaccination Week in the Americas
Washington, DC, March 25, 2004 (PAHO)—Despite the crisis, Haiti will participate in the unprecedented hemisphere-wide Vaccination Week in the Americas, and Pan American Health Organization Director Dr. Mirta Roses said today she will go to Haiti to launch the immunization drive there in April.
Health workers in every country in the Western Hemisphere will vaccinate millions of children, especially those left behind and many in isolated areas, in a historic immunization drive targeting some 40 million people, including the most vulnerable groups, women and the elderly.
"Haiti is planning to use the opportunity to vaccinate vulnerable groups in order to promote stability and peace," said Dr. Jon Andrus, chief of the Immunization Unit at PAHO.
This is the first time all the countries are holding immunization activities in the same period, for the week-long effort that runs April 24-30. While most of the countries will vaccinate against measles, polio, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, others will focus on influenza and neonatal tetanus.
The United States and Canada will participate with information and awareness efforts stressing the benefits of immunization.
The initiative started last year with an Andean joint immunization effort that grew to encompass 19 countries. PAHO's 35 countries were the first to eradicate smallpox in 1973 and polio in 1991, and are now aiming at measles and rubella.
Efforts in Haiti will start in Gonaives, where there have been no vaccinations for the last eight months, and in four provinces along the borders with the Dominican Republic, focusing on polio vaccines for all children under 5 and tetanus and diphtheria vaccines for women of child-bearing age, PAHO immunization experts said.
All the health ministers from the Americas have agreed to take part in this year's effort, and last September, at their annual meeting at PAHO, they asked the director to "promote the annual hemispheric Vaccination Week to improve equity in immunization." They also urged governments to "encourage the establishment of a specific line item for immunization in their national budgets and the timely allocation of financial resources towards vaccines, supplies, and operational costs."
Haiti's participation in the vaccine effort is another sign that the acute emergency phase in that country seems to be winding down. But "the crisis has disrupted Haitians' access to essential health care and interrupted key public health programs such as immunization, HIV/AIDS prevention, and Tuberculosis control," said Dr. Jean-Luc Poncelet, who heads PAHO’s Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Coordination unit.
Poncelet, who just returned from Haiti, a priority country for PAHO, said a series of actions are needed to prevent catastrophic ill-health over the next six months, such as enabling access to essential health services and restoration of "life-saving public health programs" including replacing vaccine equipment that was looted and critical stocks of medical supplies, medicines, and laboratory reagents.
In Haiti today, "The main threat to people’s lives and well-being are infectious diseases, lack of access to emergency health care, and shortage of treatment and essential medicines for persons with chronic conditions," Poncelet said.
PAHO has been working with a network of partners in Haiti that includes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), UN agencies such as UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNAIDS, non-government organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Medicins du Monde, Oxfam, ICRC, CARITAS, Red Cross, Centre Development de Sante, Catholic Relief Services, local health authorities and many others. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a Flash Appeal for Haiti has collected $5.82 million of the $35 million requested. Other international aid to Haiti, outside of the Flash Appeal, totaled nearly $5 million.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the oldest public health organization in the world. It is also the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization and works with all the countries in the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples.