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Vaccination Week in the Americas Set to Immunize 62 Million in the Western Hemisphere

Washington, D.C., April 16, 2008 (PAHO)—A record 62 million children, adults and elderly people are expected to receive free vaccines against leading infectious diseases as part of the sixth annual Vaccination Week in the Americas, which will take place April 19 to 26.

Tens of thousands of health workers and volunteers are slated to participate in this year’s initiative, which covers 44 countries and territories throughout the Western Hemisphere. The effort is expected to prevent thousands of deaths and illnesses from diseases including measles, rubella, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, yellow fever, influenza, rotavirus, hepatitis B, and whooping cough.

"Vaccination Week in the Americas is an example and reminder of the best of Pan Americanism," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses. "We are consolidating a true participatory culture for prevention throughout the Americas."

A parallel event, European Immunization Week—inspired by Vaccination Week in the Americas—will take place in Europe from April 21 to 27.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan noted, "The objective of Vaccination Week is to promote equity and access to vaccination," and commended the American and European initiatives, saying they are "helpful to the countries in building their own vaccination programs and reaching out to people in need."

"Thanks to the leadership and determination of our counterparts in the World Health Organization and European countries on the other side of the Atlantic, millions of people there will now also enjoy the great individual, family and national benefits of immunization," said Dr. Cuauhtémoc Ruiz, chief of PAHO’s Immunization Unit.

Ruiz and other PAHO immunization experts say they hope this year’s European Immunization Week presages an eventual World Vaccination Week.

Vaccination Week in the Americas was first launched in 2003 as an initiative of the ministers of health of the Andean Region, in response to a measles outbreak in Colombia and Venezuela. Today it has the support and participation of every PAHO member country in the Americas.

Since its launch six years ago, Vaccination Week in the Americas has delivered vaccines to more than 195 million people in 45 countries and territories. Despite its growth as an international phenomenon, the initiative has remained focused on the original goal of reaching the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities—indigenous groups, people living in border areas, and geographically isolated communities—which are often left behind in national immunization campaigns.

As in past years, Vaccination Week in the Americas 2008 will include a series of launches and special events featuring ministers of health and other dignitaries, as well as celebrities.

The regional launch will take place in Panama on April 19, with the participation of PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses, Minister of Health of Panama Dr. Rosario Turner, Minister of Health of Costa Rica Dr. María Luisa Ávila Agüero, and First Lady of Panama Vivian Fernández de Torrijos. Singers Jerry Rivera and Ricardo Montaner will also be on hand for the launch and promote vaccination efforts.

PAHO Director Dr. Roses will travel to Sunland Park, New Mexico, and join a caravan to El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico for the U.S.–Mexico launch on April 21, with Secretary of Health of Mexico Dr. José Angel Córdova Villalobos, Dr.Rosaly Correa Araujo of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Jeanne Santoli of CDC, and other officials.

Local events are also planned for the border areas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; the United States and Mexico; Mexico and Guatemala; Honduras and Nicaragua; Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela; and Colombia, Brazil and Peru.

As a technical cooperation agency, PAHO supports its member countries in organizing and carrying out Vaccination Week in the Americas, including planning, resource mobilization, social communication campaigns, procurement of vaccines and supplies, and evaluation of activities. PAHO also coordinates inter-agency efforts, works to recruit new partners for the initiative, and sends its own experts to the region to support member countries in organizing and implementing Vaccination Week in the Americas.

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

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