(Press Release) Ministers of Health of the Caribbean met in Nassau, Bahamas yesterday to agree to the Declaration of Nassau, an agreement to take evidence-informed measures to strengthen national immunization programs in the Caribbean.
Almost one in ten children under the age of one-year (over 11,000) in the Caribbean do not receive all of their routine vaccination doses, leaving them susceptible to diseases such as polio, tetanus, measles and diphtheria. The Declaration, which was signed during the 29th Special Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) on the occasion of the 21st Vaccination Week in the Americas, commits governments to ensuring that immunization returns to the forefront of countries’ health policy agendas through political visibility and sustainable financing.
“Over the decades, PAHO has worked hand-in-hand with Caribbean Member States to eradicate smallpox and polio, and to end endemic transmission of measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome and other preventable diseases,” Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa said in an address to the meeting.
The Director highlighted the importance of maintaining these gains given the “great risk of the reemergence of diseases which had already been eliminated from our Region.”
“Historically, immunization coverage in the Caribbean has been high, but this has been declining in recent years,” added Dr. Karen Broome, Immunization Advisor for the Caribbean Subregion at PAHO.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already concerning situation, leaving gaps in human, financial and material resources within countries’ immunization programs.”
In response to this, the Declaration of Nassau proposes to strengthen national immunization programs using evidence-informed interventions, including through prioritizing immunity gaps among children, older persons, pregnant women, persons with pre-existing conditions, health workers and those living in situations of vulnerability.
It also calls on countries to maintain the regional targets for the control and elimination of polio, measles, rubella, tetanus, Hepatitis B, bacterial meningitis and cervical cancer, and proposes the development of policies and strategies to address vaccine hesitancy and infodemics.
Reiterating PAHO’s commitment to increasing immunization coverage, Dr. Barbosa highlighted a joint initiative between PAHO and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) to utilize refunds from COVAX to help support routine vaccination for Member States. This will provide key support for the implementation of initiatives outlined in the Declaration.
“The Caribbean has long been a leader in public health in several key areas,” said the PAHO Director. “I look forward to strengthening our work with you in the coming years as we address the major public health challenges.”
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of its population. Founded in 1902, it is the world’s oldest international public health agency. It serves as the Regional Office of WHO for the Americas and is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American system.
The PAHO Subregional Program is responsible for providing subregional technical cooperation and to strengthen PAHO’s engagement with the Caribbean Subregional integration mechanisms, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and its various bodies and organs; and to build synergistic partnerships with the subregional institutions such as the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the University of the West Indies (UWI), among others. PAHO’s subregional technical cooperation specifically focuses on public health issues which would benefit from economies of scale and for which agreement on proposed collective responses and actions would produce a far greater impact rather than individual country responses. The Subregional Program also plays a role in coordinating among the different PAHO country offices.