Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says that Jamaica has made significant strides towards attaining universal immunisation coverage for all children, with 100 per cent coverage of tuberculosis (BCG) last year.
Also in 2011, the country achieved 92 per cent coverage for polio, diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough and tetanus (DPT), hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza type B (HIB), and 88 per cent coverage for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
The figures, he said, represents an improvement over the country's performance in 2009, which showed 94 per cent coverage for BCG, 91 per cent for polio, DPT, Hep B and HIB and 87 per cent coverage for MMR.
The Minister, who was speaking at the official launch of Vaccination Week in the Americas held at the Medallion Hall Hotel in St. Andrew on Tuesday (April 24),
Dr. Ferguson, said that the increased coverage have been successful in eliminating or reducing the prevalence of a number of vaccine-preventable diseases.
He noted that efforts such as Vaccination Week in the Americas and the Ministry’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) have been a lifeline to Jamaica, preventing illness, disability and, in some cases, death.
He said Jamaica’s achievements in immunisation coverage has not gone unnoticed and has resulted in the country copping the 2011 Henry Smith Cup for excellence in improvement in the EPI.
“This could not have been achieved without the dedication and hard work of our public health team, mainly the public health nurses, community midwives and community health aides. I want to acknowledge and thank them for their service to this country in the field of primary health care,” he said.
Dr. Ferguson informed that the main goal of the Ministry is to secure the gains that have been made over the years and to see further improvements, particularly in the realisation of the Millennium Development Goal 4, which is to reduce child mortality.
He is therefore urging parents to ensure that their children are fully immunised by utilising the primary health care system. “Secure their health, well-being and their future by taking this simple, but very important step,” he advised.
Senior Education Officer, Ministry of Education (MoeE), Sonia Glanville, reminded parents that all children under the age of seven years must be adequately immunised before entry to school, which includes all day nurseries, day-care centres, and basic schools. She noted that the MoE was committed to working in collaboration with the Health Ministry in meeting its goals.
Deputy Representative, United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Deirdre Kiernan, said vaccination still remains one of the most successful and cost effective health interventions by any country. Citing information from the World Health Organization (WHO), she said that vaccination prevents between two to three million deaths every year. “It saves lives, but also helps us to live fulfilling lives,” she remarked.
Miss Kiernan said UNICEF continues to ensure that children across the world have access to vaccination and has placed special focus on children living in the most marginalised communities, which in Jamaica’s case, are the deep rural and volatile areas.
In her remarks, Manager, Family and Community Health, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Washington, Dr. Gina Tambini, said the agency recognises and is touched by all the work that is being done in Jamaica in the area of health care, particularly immunisation.
She noted that the Americas and the Caribbean have helped to set the pace for the rest of the world as it relates to vaccination, pointing out that the Caribbean has led the way in the elimination of measles in the region.
“In the Americas, over the last 10 years, Vaccination Week has grown to become the largest multi-national health initiative in the region,” she said.
Vaccination Week in the Americas is observed annually during the last week of April in more than 30 countries throughout the Americas. It is being observed under the theme, ‘Vaccination: An Act of Love – For Me, For You, For Everyone. Get Vaccinated’.
The purpose of the week is to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination and to target at risk groups, hard to reach and marginalised populations for vaccination while continuing efforts to improve routine immunisation coverage in children.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter