|© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0778/Roger LeMoyne|
|An elderly woman who has brought her granddaughter to be immunized watches as a visiting vaccinator prepares a vaccine dose for the child, at the health centre in the village of Savane Cabrit, near the town of Ganthier in West Department. A ‘cold box’ behind them keeps vaccines at a constant low temperature to maintain their potency.|
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 5 May 2010 – Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are wrapping up the annual Vaccination Week of the Americas, an initiative covering 44 countries and territories in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. In Haiti alone, an estimated 60,000 children under the age of five were immunized last week.
Since it began in 2003, the vaccination week initiative has helped to immunize nearly 300 million people. The effort is a partnership between UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). It aims to expand and update the vaccination programmes in the region while promoting better communication between countries.
A challenging mission
The World Health Organization (WHO) has made great progress in bringing immunization to the Americas. Endemic measles has been eliminated in the region, with the last case reported in 2002. Polio was eradicated in 1994, and the last case of endemic rubella was reported in 2009. Other vaccine-preventable diseases have decreased significantly in incidence.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0779/Roger LeMoyne|
|A woman carries her toddler daughter, who has just been vaccinated, and the child’s immunization card, at the health centre in the village of Savane Cabrit, near the town of Ganthier in West Department.|
Despite such successes, however, health authorities in the region rely on massive vaccination campaigns to reach children who remain unprotected.
Across the Latin American and Caribbean region, many hard-to-reach populations – including indigenous groups and children living in rural areas – have little access to vaccines. UNICEF's Regional Health Advisor for Latin American and the Caribbean, Enrique Paz, said one strategy for immunizing hard-to-reach children is to make vaccines available in adjacent areas.
Other vaccination challenges also face the region. “New vaccines in the region, like H1N1 and pneumococcal [pneumonia]...require a better cold-chain upgrade,” Dr. Paz said, referring to the process of keeping vaccines fresh. “That’s a big challenge.”
Focus on Haiti
Although the vaccination week campaign took place throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, a special focus this year is on Haiti.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0777/Roger LeMoyne|
|A visiting vaccinator prepares to immunize a crying girl, who is being comforted by her mother, at the health centre in the village of Savane Cabrit, near the town of Ganthier in West Department.|
Following January’s devastating earthquake, routine immunization efforts were severely affected. Many health facilities were damaged or destroyed, and interruptions to fuel and power supplies have had a major impact on health services – including the cold-chain system that supports the storage and distribution of vaccines. With pre-quake vaccination levels as low as 52 per cent, the campaign is an important opportunity to re-launch routine immunization in many vulnerable areas.
In Haiti, the vaccination drive is being led by the Ministry of Health with the support of UNICEF, WHO and PAHO. Children under five in several Haitian departments will receive vaccinations against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles and rubella.
“Vaccination is the most cost-effective life-saver for children,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos. “The human cost of not vaccinating a child is immeasurable.”
This round of immunizations will supplement a campaign that began in Haiti in February and has already reached more than 220,000 children in several camps for displaced persons.
In addition to regular vaccinations, children will also receive vitamin A supplements and de-worming tablets. Vaccines will be distributed at fixed centres and through outreach teams travelling to the most hard-to-reach communities. A total of 146 groups of vaccinators will work on the campaign. UNICEF is providing vaccines, syringes and other equipment to support the effort.
4 May 2010: UNICEF Regional Health Advisor for Latin American and the Caribbean Enrique Paz speaks about Vaccination Week of the Americas.
Earthquake in Haiti