Port of Prince, Haiti, 21 April 2012 (PAHO/WHO) — As the 10th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas got under way, Haiti today launched intensive vaccination activities to protect children against diseases including polio, measles and rubella, among others. A launch event was held in Port of Prince with the participation of national health authorities, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the GAVI Alliance, and other international organizations.


"Today Haiti marks three important milestones in global public health: the launch of intensive activities for child health, the 10th anniversary of Vaccination Week in the Americas, and the first World Immunization Week," said PAHO Director Mirta Roses Periago, at a special event held at Port of Prince City Hall.

Haiti's goal is to vaccinate some 2.5 million children aged 9 years and under against polio and 2.3 million aged 9 months to 9 years against measles and rubella. Health workers also expect to administer some 1.2 million doses of vitamin A and 2 million doses of albendazol, an antiparasitic drug.

"PAHO/WHO recognizes this exemplary action by the Ministry of Public Health and Population," said Dr. Roses. "We will continue to face challenges in the control of vaccine-preventable diseases. But if we convert the challenges into achievements and we control risks, Haiti will be on its way to having a model vaccination program, one that will also incorporate new vaccines that have been shown to have a high impact in reducing child morbidity and mortality."

"Reaching 95 percent vaccination coverage will contribute to the health security of everyone—rich and poor, in the cities and the countryside," said Dr. Florence Guillaume, Haiti's Minister of Health and Population. "Viruses and bacteria are smarter than we are, because they don't discriminate against anyone."

Other participants in the launch included GAVI Board Chairman Dagfinn Høybråten; UNICEF Deputy Representative in Haiti Stephano Savi; Kevin De Cock, Director of the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease  Control and Prevention (CDC); and Gabriel Thimoté, Director-General of Health in Haiti's Ministry of Public Health and Population, among others.

PAHO Director Roses said that for Haiti to achieve a model program, "it needs to guarantee sustainable financing and health systems that meet the needs of the population with solidarity and equity through access to quality, timely and dignified services." She told Minister of Health Guillaume, "You can be sure your partners will support the implementation of this public policy of the Haitian government in a comprehensive, sustainable and disinterested way."

"GAVI has been an ally to Haiti for over 10 years, helping to improve immunization services and preparing the country for the introduction of new vaccines," said GAVI Chairman Dagfinn Høybråten. "Routine vaccination services are a critical component in for strengthening the health system in Haiti, and GAVI is committed to Haiti's comprehensive development."

The intensive child health activities launched today seek to strengthen Haiti's routine immunization program through personnel training, strengthening the vaccine cold chain, proper waste disposal, improvements in epidemiological surveillance, and capacity building in program management.

"Routine immunization, as part of essential health services, will provide the basis for strengthening the health system and building a social protection system in Haiti," said Dr. Roses.

Today's launch featured a flag parade by Haitian school children, a PAHO/WHO photo exhibit celebrating 10 years of Vaccination Week in the Americas, and a special music and dance performance.

Ten years ago, in 2003, Haiti was the site of the first launch of Vaccination Week in the Americas. Since then, the regional initiative has taken the benefits of vaccination to an estimated 365 million people throughout the hemisphere.

This year's Vaccination Week in the Americas is expected to reach some 44 million people in 45 countries and territories in this hemisphere, while more than 180 countries and territories are expected to participate in the first World Immunization Week, both from April 21 to 28.

"The success of Vaccination Week in the Americas has provided a model for other regions in the world, and today we celebrate the start of World Immunization Week," said Dr. Roses. "All the countries together are protecting their populations through vaccination. A public health dream has become a reality."

Vaccination is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions, preventing some 2-3 million deaths each year around the world.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the oldest public health organization in the world. It 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 (WHO).





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