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"Vaccination week in the Americas" advances on goals

Regional objective: Vaccinate 62 million people

El Paso, TX, Pan American Caravan for Health: Dr. Mirta Roses, PAHO Director; Dr. José Angel Córdova Villalobos, Secretary of Health, Mexico; and Dr. Rosaly Correa de Araujo, Delegate for Secretary, DHHS. (Photo by Jorge Jenkins, FO El Paso, PAHO/WHO)

Washington, D.C., April 25, 2008 (PAHO)—With a spirit of integration and Pan-Americanism, health authorities carried out launches and immunization activities in all countries and territories of the Americas this week, working to vaccinate 62 million children, young people and adults throughout the Region, including indigenous populations in border areas.

This joint initiative, Vaccination Week in the Americas, aims to reduce gaps created by inequities, with a special focus on indigenous communities and populations in the most unprotected sectors, especially in remote and border areas, and neglected groups.

At the Amazon border, health authorities from Brazil, Colombia and Peru launched Vaccination Week with an inaugural act at the three-country border. The president of the National Health Foundation of Brazil (FUNASA), Dr. Danilo Forte, said, "We have the obligation to take health to the most remote communities and to indigenous populations, respecting at all times their traditional medicine, so that they reach the same health indicators as the averages of the country. Vaccination Week offers an opportunity to reach this objective."

Dr. Carlos Ignacio Cuervo, Vice Minister of Social Protection of Colombia, emphasized the importance of joining efforts to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases and protect border populations. The Vice Minister of Health of Peru, Dr. Melitón Arce, said, "Joining efforts to offer the gift of vaccination to children and adults is a propitious occasion to advance toward the reduction of inequities, so that the ecological oasis of the Amazon region is turned into an oasis of well-being."

On the U.S.-Mexico border, a Pan American Caravan traveled from the Family Clinic in Sunland Park, New Mexico, to the La Fe health center in El Paso, Texas, and then to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses accompanied the Health Secretary of Mexico, Dr. José Angel Córdova Villalobos, and Dr. Rosaly Correa de Araujo, representing HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, and state and local authorities.

Along the way, health authorities of New Mexico and Texas passed the "Torch of Immunization" to the health secretary of Mexico to launch Mexico's Campaign for the Elimination of Rubella, as part of the Hemispheric and European Vaccination Week.

In Panama, Guabito: Dr. Mirta Roses, director of PAHO; Nils Kastberg, regional director of UNICEF, and President of Panama, Martín Torrijos. (Photo by Harold Ruiz, PAHO/WHO)

The torch, transferred by Health authorities from both states as a symbol of their determination to protect the health of border populations through immunization, then was taken by Dr. Córdova to the southern border in Mexico and delivered to the Minister of Health of Guatemala, Dr. Eusebio Del Cid, to continue the launches.

In the Dominican Republic, with an appeal to raise awareness of the importance of vaccines as a way to prevent disease, the First Lady of the Dominican Republic, Mrs. Margarita Cedeño, launched national activities, calling on the population of her country to go to vaccination posts to complete immunization of children under five years old. Authorities planned to administer some 800,000 vaccines, especially to the most vulnerable populations and those in remote areas.

Due to her leadership and support for rubella elimination, Margarita Cedeño has been designated as Ambassador for Elimination of Rubella, one of the diseases targeted during the Week. In the official inauguration, Secretary of Health and Social Welfare Dr. Bautista Rojas Gómez reported that vaccination activities will be held in all 158 municipalities of the country.

The vaccination to indigenous populations in borders also is an opportunity to integrate other health activities, taking advantage of the contact with thousands of women and children. Brazil in this way, that in addition held on 19 April the National Day of the Indian, carries out vaccination activities and basic care in 15 districts, the more remote, having the support of the Armed Forces of Brazil.

Brazil, as part of the Vaccination Week, will also vaccinate those over 60 years of age against influenza. Peru will vaccinate 10.5 million children and adolescents as well as health workers against hepatitis B. Colombia will vaccinate 1.3 million children between 6 and 23 months of age against influenza and more than 200,000 children and women of childbearing age in order to complete vaccination.

Dr. Carlos Castillo-Solórzano of PAHO's immunization unit delivered a message from the Director of PAHO, indicating that "'Vaccination Week in the Americas' is an example and reminder of the best of Pan Americanism. We are consolidating a true participatory culture for prevention throughout the Americas, a reminder of what we can achieve thanks to the consensus and the leadership of the member countries of the Organization."

The annual event featured participation by thousands of health workers and volunteers, and has served as a model now being adapted by other regions such as Europe, which is now on its 3rd annual European Immunization Week.

In Panama, Guabito was the site of the tri-national launch with Panamanian President Martín Torrijos joining PAHO's director and Nils Kastberg, regional director of UNICEF, along with Ministers of Health of Costa Rica and Panama, Maria Luisa Ávila and Rosario Turner, the singer-songwriter Ricardo Montaner, a UNICEF ambassador, and Jerry Rivera, Champion of Health of PAHO.

President Torrijos said the vaccination campaign is part of the commitment of Panama with the United Nations and PAHO, to save lives and ensure that health is not a privilege but a right of all. He noted that Bocas del Toro is a province with health challenges, but with vaccination programs against Rotavirus, Hepatitis, Influenza, Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Whooping Cough, in addition to free care for children under 5 and pregnant women, the future is getting brighter.

Harold Tillman Health Center, El Paso, TX: HPV Vaccine. (Photo by Sonia Mey, PAHO/WHO)

Dr. Cristina Nogueira, PAHO's Representative in the Dominican Republic, said, "The goal is that in coming years we will see a global Vaccination Week, in which all the countries in the world are united during seven days to promote health for all."

The First Vaccination Week of the Americas in April 2003 involved 19 countries. By 2007 the 45 countries and territories of the continent had been incorporated. The initiative grew from an idea proposed by the countries of the Andean Sub-Region to cope with measles outbreaks in Colombia and Venezuela in 2002. Since its beginning, the Week has succeeded in administering more than 190 million doses of vaccines.

"Vaccination Week in the Americas has already been converted to a celebration of equity, health, and unequaled historical well-being", Dr. Rosessaid. Its impact shows "how far we can reach if we work united by health and from a genuinely Pan American perspective."

"Beyond the numbers and statistics, Vaccination Week of the Americas is a legitimate expression and a reminder of the best that Pan-Americanism offers in health," she said. "We are laying the foundations for a participatory culture of prevention throughout the world, and that is the reason for our efforts. Promoting health for all is the star that guides those of us who work in the Pan American Health Organization," Dr. Roses added.

In Uruguay, for Vaccination Week in the Americas, authorities of the Ministry of Public Health of Uruguay, the Ministry of Social Development and the City of Montevideo, presented new Vaccination Certificates, which now include vaccines against hepatitis A and pneumococcus.

The Minister of Public Health, Dr. María Julia Muñoz, pointed out that all these activities are part of an intense national campaign, for which some $7 million have been assigned. The objective, she said is "to help to preserve the health and life of the citizens of a country which values their health."

In Belize, Minister of Health Pablo Marin joined the Secretary of Health of Mexico, Dr. José Ángel Córdova Villalobos in the Caravan for Health, jointly participating in activities at the Belize-Mexico border with high level officials of PAHO.

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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