|© UNICEF video|
|A boy in Paraguay is immunized against childhood diseases during Vaccination Week in the Americas 2009.|
By Thomas Nybo
MARISCAL ESTIGARRIBIA, Paraguay, 5 May 2009 – A massive effort is under way to vaccinate 30 million people in 44 countries and territories in the Western Hemisphere.
It began recently in conjunction with the seventh annual Vaccination Week in the Americas – 25 April through 2 May – which kicked off with events in the South American Chaco region, along the border with Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, appearing in Mariscal Estigarribia, said it was symbolic for the three countries to raise their flags together and work to save lives. “How beautiful, because I was thinking that the diseases of dengue and cholera don't have borders. How beautiful that we can break the borders to work together,” he said.
Vaccination as ‘a family affair’
The 35 member countries of the Pan American Health Organization, along with nine territories, coordinated local strategies and logistics for this year's immunization initiative in cooperation with UNICEF.
They placed an emphasis on reminding people that vaccination is ‘a family affair’ – not only essential for preventing child deaths, but also for protecting adolescents, adults and senior citizens.
Another theme was protecting health workers in Latin America and the Caribbean, who work in high-risk areas but historically have low vaccination rates against hepatitis B, influenza, measles and rubella.
‘An unfinished agenda’
UNICEF's Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg noted that most countries in the region fought for their independence 200 years ago and invested in territorial sovereignty. Mr. Kastberg urged vaccination of all the region’s young children – the “bicentennial generation” – for the next 18 years.
|© UNICEF video|
|Vaccination Week events in Paraguay and other countries in the region emphasized that immunization is 'a family affair'. Here, a child receives oral polio vaccine at one event.|
“What better act of sovereignty than to protect all citizens? One part of this protection of the bicentennial generation is vaccination,” he said, adding that impressive achievements in disease eradication and elimination have been made in the Americas.
“But we still have an unfinished agenda in terms of immunization coverage levels,” said Mr. Kastberg. “In general, 44 per cent of all municipalities for all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are not achieving the goal of 95 per cent coverage with three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. And we need to change that.”
Other international events associated with the vaccination week took place along the border areas of the United States and Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, Colombia and Brazil, and Peru, Bolivia and Chile.