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Regionís Top Health Officials Launch Vaccination Week in Haiti

Fond Parisien, Haiti, April 24, 2004 (PAHO)--The region's top health officials gathered Saturday in a small border village in this poor Caribbean nation to launch a hemisphere-wide vaccination week to save the lives of millions of children.

Traveling from the Haitian Capital of Port-au-Prince, Dr. Mirta Roses, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, met with her counterpart from UNICEF, M. Nils Kastberg, who arrived from the Dominican Republic. Dozens of youngsters carrying flags and balloons waited patiently to receive their polio vaccines, delivered by the dignitaries who attended.

Saturday marked the start of Vaccination Week in the Americas, an unprecedented effort to join all the countries in the region in a common goal -- to reach those children often left behind and to highlight the importance of routine vaccinations against preventable diseases.

"I call on the whole of the region, the mothers, the fathers, families and those who take care of children not to miss this opportunity: Vaccination is an act of love," said Roses, adding that she also called on the international community to "all work together for Haiti and for the Haitian people in their 200th year."

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is considered a priority country for the Pan American Health Organization. Wracked earlier this year with political instability, PAHO has been instrumental in seeking to restore the health sector. Roses decision to launch the vaccine week in Haiti was a show of support for the beleaguered nation and its efforts to get past its crisis.

"For us today is proof that together we can do marvelous things," Roses said to an audience that included the ministers of health from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

UNICEF's Kastberg described the event as "an important symbol for the whole of the region," and said the activities marked a return to "security, confidence and normalcy" in Haiti.

Many of the activities in the rest of the hemisphere also took part along borders and areas difficult to reach. In the United States, for example, vaccinations were scheduled for later in the week in 15 communities along the U.S.-Mexican border, according to U.S. Ambassador James Foley. At least seven presidents were scheduled to take part in other launches in South America.

All of the children who received vaccinations Saturday were given stickers saying: "I've been vaccinated." Part of the communication effort for the week, the stickers were produced in Creole, Spanish and English. The social mobilization efforts also included messages in 45 languages, radio spots, television announcements, and posters.

Haiti's minister of health, Dr. Josette Bijou, described the vaccination week as "a symbol of love, of love of all the children." And her counterpart from the Dominican Republic, Dr. Jose Rodriguez Soldevilla, added: "to protect our children is to protect our futures."

At week's end it is expected that 40 million children, women of childbearing age and senior citizens will have received vaccinations. The United States and Canada planned immunization awareness activities expected to reach millions of children.

PAHO led the " Vaccination Week in the Americas" effort, just as it did the campaigns to eradicate smallpox, polio and measles. Founded more than 100 years ago, PAHO works with all the nations in the hemisphere to protect and promote health.

PAHO's 35 countries were the first to eradicate smallpox in 1973 and polio in 1991, and are now aiming at measles and rubella.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO). PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Daniel Epstein, Office of Public Information, (202) 974-3459, e-mail: epsteind@paho.org.


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