European Immunization Week launched

WHO/Erik Luntang-Jensen

From right, Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde of Belgium; Ms Laurette Onkelinx, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health of Belgium; Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe

WHO/Europe, partner organizations and several Member States reaffirmed their commitment to immunization – and particularly to controlling measles outbreaks and eliminating the disease– at the regional launch of European Immunization Week (EIW) in Brussels, Belgium on 26 April 2011. Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde of Belgium participated in the event, in her capacity as WHO/Europe’s Special Representative for Immunization.

“As a mother of four small children, I am fully committed to [immunization] on a personal level,” said Princess Mathilde. “But my commitment to raising awareness about immunization extends far beyond the bounds of my own family. Immunization is one of the most cost-effective health investments that a society can make. It is one that protects not just the individual but also entire communities, countries and regions from diseases that can result in sickness, disability and even death. But we should not forget that immunization is at its most effective in preventing disease when everyone works together.”

Working together to find solutions

The theme of sharing experience and working together to find solutions to the common threat of vaccine-preventable diseases ran throughout the statements made during the launch. Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said, “At this critical moment, let us ensure that our WHO European Region remains a global leader in immunization through strengthened and accelerated shared responses. Today, we celebrate our collective achievements in immunization, and I urge each one of us to focus his or her dedication and commitment on meeting [our collective immunization goals].”

Ms Laurette Onkelinx, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health of Belgium; Mr Steven Allen, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States; John Ryan, Head of Unit at the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Consumers; and Professor Johan Giesecke, Chief Scientist at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) also took part in the event.

Following the launch, the participants engaged in an hour-long round-table discussion with representatives from four Member States in the European Region: Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. This discussion focused on the measles outbreaks under way in the western part of the Region. It enabled Member States to share updates on their national strategic plans, define their control measures for measles outbreaks and discuss their current challenges in reaching every child with two doses of measles-containing vaccine. It also opened a discussion about finding shared solutions to meeting the Region’s goal of eliminating measles by 2015.

The launch represented the start of EIW activities all across the European Region, with 52 countries participating this year. “I am proud to be able to say that European Immunization Week has grown into one of the most visible public health events in the European Region,” said Ms Jakab.