Washington, D.C., 21 October 2011 (PAHO/WHO) — Representatives of key health organizations working in Haiti pledged this week to support new efforts to strengthen the country's immunization program, including by introducing new vaccines that could save thousands of lives each year.
At the invitation of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), immunization officials from Haiti's Ministry of Health met during two days with representatives of international partner organizations to discuss an action plan and funding to strengthen Haiti's routine immunization program and to introduce new vaccines against pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).
The partners included UNICEF, the GAVI Alliance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Ministry of Health of Brazil, the Cuban Medical Brigade, the Pediatric Society of Haiti, the American Red Cross, the Lions Club International Foundation and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Haiti's current immunization program includes vaccines against tuberculosis (BCG); diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT); polio (OPV); measles and rubella. For 2010, the country reported average national vaccine coverage rates of less than 70 percent.
Despite relatively low coverage, the country has seen recent public health successes related to immunization. The last cases of measles and polio in Haiti were reported in 2001, and the last rubella outbreak was reported in 2006. Sporadic cases of diphtheria continue to occur, and the country reports half of all neonatal tetanus cases in the Americas each year.
PAHO/WHO estimates that more than 6,000 Haitian children die each year from rotavirus, pneumococcal disease and Hib, which to date have not been part of Haiti's immunization program.
The overall objectives of the plan presented this week are to consolidate Haiti's elimination of measles, polio and rubella and to save lives and prevent illness through expanded coverage and the introduction of new vaccines. The plan would introduce pentavalent vaccine (DTP, Hib, and hepatitis B) in 2012—making Haiti the last country in the Americas to adopt this vaccine—and introduce rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines in 2013.
A key focus of the plan is strengthening the routine immunization program. It includes measures to:
- Modernize the "cold chain" by increasing the number of refrigeration units and converting from propane to solar power
- Improve delivery and follow-up services
- Increase public awareness and improve communication
- Install environmentally friendly incinerators for immunization-related waste disposal
- Improve quality, logistics, surveillance and program management in immunization
- Provide technical and managerial training
- Build institutional capacity within the Ministry of Health.
Partners at the meeting pledged both technical and financial support to carry out the action plan over the next five years.
PAHO Deputy Director Jon Andrus, who chaired the meeting, praised representatives from Haiti's Expanded Immunization Program for drafting the plan and considering the recommendations of international partners in its finalization.
"Your work is admirable, and if you follow through, you will save so many lives by strengthening the current vaccine program and introducing new vaccines. You will leave a legacy in your country," Andrus said.
Representatives of several participating organizations, including the GAVI Alliance, CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, CIDA and the Ministry of Health of Haiti, noted that meetings such as this one were important to increase efficiency and avoid duplication of efforts among health partners in Haiti. Santiago Cornejo of GAVI specifically noted, "I would ask PAHO to continue to play this role of bringing partners together to ensure that we keep working in a coordinated way."