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Bugs don’t respect boundaries

Elizabeth Kiem is the online producer for unicefusa.org.

Eight years ago, a measles outbreak in Colombia and Venezuela compelled health ministers to band together to halt the spread of the childhood illness. It went well.

So well that other nations got on board to join efforts and synchronize campaigns to bolster immunity across borders. Today Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA), which kicked off on April 24, is marked by 44 countries and territories in the hemisphere and at the ripe old age of eight … can claim pioneer status. (European Immunization Week is five years old; Mediterranean Vaccination Week just debuted.)

Elizabeth Kiem is the online producer for unicefusa.org.

Eight years ago, a measles outbreak in Colombia and Venezuela compelled health ministers to band together to halt the spread of the childhood illness. It went well.

So well that other nations got on board to join efforts and synchronize campaigns to bolster immunity across borders. Today Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA), which kicked off on April 24, is marked by 44 countries and territories in the hemisphere and at the ripe old age of eight … can claim pioneer status. (European Immunization Week is five years old; Mediterranean Vaccination Week just debuted.)

A boy accompanied by his mother cries while being vaccinated, at Sylvio Cator Stadium in the center of Port-au-Prince.
UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0140/Noorani
A boy accompanied by his mother cries while being vaccinated, at Sylvio Cator Stadium in the center of Port-au-Prince.

The Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Mirta Roses, calls VWA “the best of Pan-Americanism.” It’s hard to argue. Although a good fish taco accompanied by a microbrew from Oregon and salsa dancing is pretty hard to beat.

But this is the lesson: Regional immunization campaigns work; “Bugs” do not respect boundaries.

In Haiti, VWA will be marked next Sunday at events on the border with Dominican Republic. PAHO’s Dr. Roses will be in the Haitian town of Fond Parisien and then at the neighboring town of Jimani in DR along with the health ministers. UNICEF, as the leading provider of vaccinations for children worldwide, will be there too.

Since the devastating earthquake in January, UNICEF Haiti has been coordinating vaccination for some 500,000 children. The campaign is nearly complete in Port-au-Prince, and now the task is to reach remote communities of displaced and their hosts. This is important not just to prevent the immediate spread of diseases like measles, but to establish routine immunization in a country where very few could count on routine protection before the quake.

With just over half of all children protected against measles, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, Haiti has everything to gain from Vaccination Week in America. This year’s slogan is “Reaching Everyone.” That’s what Pan-Americanism is all about.

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