THE EDITOR, Sir:
Everyone is invited this week to participate in the biggest public-health party in our hemisphere: the 10th Vaccination Week in the Americas (VWA).
The celebration has a very special meaning because at the same time we are also launching the first World Immunisation Week. During the last decade, the trailblazing efforts by all the countries and territories of the Americas have inspired the rest of the world's regions to progressively adopt the same initiative. A public-health dream has finally become true.
Historically, the Western Hemisphere has been recognised as the world champion in immunising its populations and promoting a culture of prevention, leading to strong reductions in mortality and lessening the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases on families and on health-care systems.
Nevertheless, the overall success of vaccination programmes hides tremendous inequalities. Gaps in vaccination coverage at local clusters have persisted, piercing the public-health protection net and placing many communities at risk. This is, precisely, what the VWA addresses, as a vital and equality-oriented complement to the daily effort of every country to keep the population well vaccinated.
In 2002, the ministers of health of the Andean Region decided to synchronise their campaigns to stop a measles outbreak. The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) raised that flag and by 2003, many countries in the hemisphere had joined the initiative.
This week, we will surpass an accumulative total of 400 million individuals vaccinated in our region during the VWA - an amazing achievement. This year events are planned across the whole region, from the recent Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, to activities in Bridgetown, Barbados.
The global community continues to confront many challenges in the control of vaccine-preventable diseases, among them sustaining the public trust and confidence in these miracle tools, closing the books on eradication of polio virus, and the resurgence and importation of measles into free areas.
The millions of deaths averted by the appropriate use of vaccines are the best reason to celebrate the 10th Vaccination Week of the Americas and the first World Immunisation Week as an act of love.