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Vaccine Contributions to Health Highlighted at Expert Meeting

México, November 3, 2004 (PAHO)—Vaccine programs in the Americas have made major contributions to improving health in the Americas and new vaccines could go even further, said Dr. D.A. Henderson, a global expert who chairs a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) technical group here today.

Opening a meeting of 200 experts in vaccine-preventable diseases, Henderson, who led the successful smallpox eradication campaign, said, "Mortality rates of children under 5 years old have dropped between 3 and 5 percent every year over the past 20 years, more than at any other time in history. Vaccines made a huge contribution and this group has played a very important part in contributing to health improvements in the Americas."

"We are looking ahead to better and new vaccines against HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. I feel confident we will have them, and with the unique, effective immunization structures you have created in the Americas, which have served as an example for the world, we can look forward to an even better future for the children of the region and the world," said Henderson, chairman of the Technical Advisory Group on Vaccine Preventable Diseases.

Dr. Jon K. Andrus, chief of PAHO’s immunization unit, said "We are very proud to have developed a culture of disease prevention which succeeded in eradicating polio, eliminating measles and neonatal tetanus, and in improving public health."

"Through vaccines, we’ve saved the lives of millions of children who might have died otherwise and we’ve improved the health of many others who might have been disabled by polio or other diseases. Disease eradication has been called one of humanity’s greatest achievements."

Andrus said, "We have a new opportunity to eliminate rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in the Americas and to create a culture of preventive health that reduces health inequities, focusing on women and families in poor and marginal zones."

"With advances in vaccines, we will create immunization programs for the entire family, incorporating new vaccines when they become available, whether influenza, HIV/AIDS or rotavirus. Together we can continue improving health in the Americas, with support from the governments, the pharmaceutical industry, our partners, and all our dedicated health workers," Andrus added.

Dr. Roberto Tapia Conyer, assistant secretary of health in Mexico, said almost 50 years have passed since polio vaccines were introduced, and "The progress achieved has set an example for the world. But we have to meet the future challenges and ensure enough human and financial resources remain available to complete our vaccine programs and undertake new ones. This requires commitment and decisive action by policy makers and health workers, so we can encourage the rest of the world to follow our leads in improving health with current and new vaccines."

Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals for the World Health Organization, said, "Your work has inspired us and the excellent processes you created in your vaccine programs are now being adopted in Africa and the rest of the world, with great success."

Henderson also announced the untimely death of Dr. John R. La Montagne, assistant director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who suffered an apparent heart attack last night upon his arrival in Mexico to participate in the meeting. Henderson asked the participants to observe a minute of silence for La Montagne, who he called "a distinguished member of this group who knew more about vaccines and immunization than anyone in the world."

Dr. Ciro de Quadros, former head of PAHO´s vaccine program, is set to succeed Henderson as chairman of the TAG at its next meeting, and Dr. J. Peter Figueroa, chief of epidemiology and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica’s health ministry, will serve as acting chairman. Other members include Dr. Steve Cochi, who heads the U.S. National Immunization Program, Dr. Fernando Muñoz of the Chile Ministry of Health, Dr. Tapia of Mexico, and Dr. Joseph Z. Losos of the University of Ottawa in Canada.

PAHO, established in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

For media inquiries, contact Daniel Epstein, PAHO. Telephone in Mexico: 011 52 55 5242 4085.

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