Immunization in the Americas needs a shot in the arm
UNICEF and PAHO warn of millions of under-immunized children at risk from cross-border infections
Haiti/New York/Washington, DC, April 23, 2004 (PAHO/UNICEF)—As the first ever "Vaccination Week" in the Americas kicks off tomorrow, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and UNICEF warn that millions of children in the region are not fully protected against deadly childhood diseases.
"In an age when diseases can easily cross borders, these numbers are dangerous and these children at risk," says Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization.
Over the next seven days, some 40 million persons in 35 countries across North and South America will be immunized against childhood diseases such as measles and tetanus - diseases which remain some of the world's most deadly.
Under the common banner "Vaccination: an act of love", the region will particularly focus on reaching pockets of poor and vulnerable children and women, many of whom have never been immunized before.
"Despite emerging threats from new diseases, it's common diseases like measles and neonatal tetanus that remain the real child killers, taking thousands of young lives every week across the world," says Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for the Americas and Caribbean. "This campaign drives home the reality that immunization for all is a pre-requisite to give every child the opportunity to survive and thrive."
Vaccination Week will launch in on 24 April the remote border region between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, home to some of the poorest, most isolated and most vulnerable children in the Americas. In Haiti, the campaign is also an opportunity to foster stability and peace during the country's reconstruction.
About half of Haitian children do not receive routine immunization against preventable disease. During Vaccination Week, campaigns will include vaccination against polio and measles, vitamin A supplements and tetanus vaccinations for women of childbearing age. The Dominican Republic will also introduce the rubella vaccine into its immunization schedule.
No effort has been spared to spread the word about the upcoming immunization activities. In Haiti, an army of town criers has been announcing the campaign through the streets, markets and public places in the border communities.
While the priority throughout the region will be protecting children against measles, polio and rubella, countries will also be looking to address the specific needs of their vulnerable populations. For example, Brazil will use Vaccination Week to encourage influenza vaccination for its elderly and provide immunization services at its border crossing with French Guyana. Some countries will concentrate on protecting mothers and newborns against maternal and neonatal tetanus.
"Our concern to ensure that immunization is delivered across the Americas in an equitable way, including the poor and vulnerable," said Dr. Roses.
The United States and Canada will also participate in Vaccination Week. Both countries plan a public information campaign to promote the benefits of immunization. The US-Mexico Border Health Commission will collaborate with PAHO to organize immunization sessions for children in the seven main border towns. Vaccination Week events will also take place in New York City, San Diego and other major U.S. cities in Arizona, District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.
"US citizens are fortunate to have the highest immunization rates in the Americas today,” says Nils Kastberg. “But with over a million people crossing international borders every day, disease outbreaks are a real possibility if those rates start to fall."