Health officials from Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten, BES islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba), and The Netherlands concluded their Mini Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) two-day conference last week with the intention to move forward in a number of areas. “It is extremely important that we work together regardless of the constitutional changes,” said Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour Cornelius de Weever. “Our regional and international reporting obligations continue. We must be proactive and consider increasing the age for vaccination coverage and also introducing new and approved vaccines.”
One of the agenda points of discussion by EPI Managers’ was surveillance. How well is reporting done and who reports and why is it important to report on occurring communicable diseases. St. Maarten and all the other islands depend on tourism and there are still some diseases out there of which some are reemerging and we need to be aware and ready to deal with them. In that respect the SLS presented information on the incidence of certain communicable diseases on St. Maarten. Both the PAHO/CAREC and The Netherlands stressed on the importance of reporting so one knows what is happening in order to react adequately.
Another topic was also the introduction of the “Heel Prick” which is a health screening carried out on newborns with the aim to verify whether they have certain congenital conditions that can be treated if discovered early on, but if left untreated cause severe health and other problems for the individual. The BES islands will be introducing this “Heel Prick” while the other islands want to make use of the opportunity to introduce this type of screening for their children, and are now looking into how the logistics can be worked out together with The Netherlands as the material has to be screened in that country. St. Maarten also made use of the opportunity to have its cold chain equipment inspected. PAHO, Caribbean Epidemiology Centre from Trinidad and Tobago, and PAHO Washington Office, also took part in the twoday meeting which was held at the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Hotel and Casino.
St. Maarten hosted the conference last week which was facilitated by the Collective Prevention Services (CPS) of the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) organizes a meeting every year for the English Dutch and French speaking Caribbean region, including the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Canadian Public Health EPI authorities.
The islands of the former Netherlands Antilles indicated previously that they wanted to continue working together despite the then imminent constitutional changes. The international setting was initially the place where the islands met separately, however, the choice was made later on to have a Mini EPI meeting for the six islands apart from the big one. This is the second time that St. Maarten has organized this Mini EPI meeting. Each country presented its country report on the status of vaccination, achievements and challenges and plans for the future. All islands indicated that new vaccines will be introduced in their schedules. The BES will be following the Dutch schedule when applicable. Challenges with reaching certain groups in the community and interpreting foreign vaccination records were also highlighted. The World Health Organization (WHO) established the EPI in May 1974 in order to extend the enormous benefits of vaccination to a larger number of children.