International Agencies and Ministry of Health and Social Services Join Forces to Strengthen Immunization in Armenia

NEW YORK, New York, May 12, 2000 – The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs (MoHSS) of Armenia has formed an Interagency Immunization Coordinating Committee (ICC) to ensure that support to the National Immunization Program (NIP) is timely and well coordinated. Participants in the March 30th meeting of the ICC in Yerevan included UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, USAID, as well as members of an interagency mission to Armenia, March 28th – April 1st, representing partners in the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunizations (GAVI). GAVI Mission partners included the Bill and Melinda Gates Children’s Vaccine Program (CVP), WHO headquarters, UNICEF regional office (Europe), and Armenia Immunization 2000 (AI2K) a new immunization initiative supported by the Ani and Narod Memorial Fund (ANMF) in New York.

“The ICC meeting was a critical first step in stimulating an open dialogue on immunization with the Ministry and partners on the ground in Armenia to decide on the roles of each in a spirit of cooperation and teamwork. While coordinating so many partners presents a challenge, we hope the shared objectives of the ICC will push this noble initiative forward,” said Seda Aghamianz, Program Manager, AI2K.

The MoHSS and the Ministry of Finance, with the supporting signatures of the ICC member agencies, will be submitting a proposal to the GAVI Secretariat this fall for the procurement of hepatitis B vaccines and auto-disable syringes to support the NIP’s hepatitis B vaccination efforts for up to five-years.

“We are delighted to raise the standards of public health with the potential addition of the hepatitis B vaccine for the coming years to our immunization schedule. This addition coupled with our existing high standards of coverage will lessen the gap between western countries and Armenia. We are very thankful to GAVI and the Gates Foundation for making immunization a global issue. Armenia plans to be one of the first of the 74 eligible countries to benefit from new vaccines. We look forward to a long and productive relationship,” said Dr. Ararat Mkrtchian, Minister of Health and Social Services, Republic of Armenia.

“Since 1994, thanks to international assistance from UNICEF, USAID, WHO and other donors, the NIP has been able to eliminate shortages in supplies and restore immunization coverage for most vaccines to close to, or above 90 percent” said Dr. Margarita Balasanian, head of the NIP. “These high coverage rates translate into low disease burdens for most vaccine-preventable diseases. The exception is mumps. The Government is responsible for the procurement of the mumps vaccines. Acute shortages of the vaccine – aggravated by the deepening economic crisis in 1997, have resulted in outbreaks of mumps that reached epidemic proportions in 1999.”

Despite the recent economic hardships in Armenia, the NIP has demonstrated the ability to deliver vaccines to its target population. “Armenia today has the workings of a good technical ‘machinery’. The vehicle is there it just needs gas,” said Robert Steinglass from the BASICS II project and a member of the AI2K Medical Advisory Council. On the other hand however, the Government remains heavily dependant on international aid, which usually is short term, oriented. Additionally, international aid is not a stable source of funding for vaccines. Armenia could face serious difficulties should aid be interrupted.

“AI2K’s immediate challenge today is to raise a nucleus of funding, which will serve as an adjunct to existing funding and will assure the continuity of critical vaccines such as the mumps vaccine,” said Aghamianz. However, the longer-term vision of AI2K is to build an endowment that will enable the NIP to purchase vaccines on a sustainable basis, without recourse to international aid.

“AI2K holds the potential to be a vital partner in ensuring that Armenia’s children receive the same, lifesaving vaccines that children in the U.S. take for granted. This unique initiative has taken on the challenge of not only meeting the vaccine needs of the children in one year, or the next, but in ensuring that they will be protected in perpetuity. AI2K’s success will provide a striking legacy for the children of Armenia,” said Alan Brooks, Program Officer, CVP.

“While AI2K shares the global vision of protecting lives against vaccine preventable diseases, we are activists and advocates of this cause in the Armenian world alongside UNICEF and others. As we begin the new century we need to assure that every child in Armenia will have access to vaccines that are routinely given in the West. To do this, we need to try to bring more partners and dollars to the table and not let existing and potential money sources drive other sources of money away. We applaud the efforts of our international partners that share our vision and affirm that AI2K will join this effort and leverage the capabilities of the Armenian Diaspora to the best of its ability in the coming years,” said Raffy Ardhaldjian, Chairman, ANMF.

The unprecedented changes in Armenia’s transition from a member of the Soviet Union to an independent state together with the shortages of national budgets for social and health services, shift the interim responsibility of this important aspect of public health (immunization) to international agencies and the Armenian Diaspora. AI2K intends to create social value by intervening to offset social inequities in an innovative way to a public health problem in Armenian society. If successful, this model can be replicated in other societies and AI2K’s social impact would even be bigger.

For more information about AI2K or to find out how you can support this initiative write to AI2K c/o ANMF, 300 Park Avenue, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10022, email to ANMF@aol.com or call the AI2K program office at 617-924-0734. AI2K is a health program of the Ani & Narod Memorial Fund (ANMF), a private nonprofit operating foundation established in 1994 in the memory of Ani and Narod Ardhaldjian. Seed funds to the program were made available by the Cafesjian Family Foundation and ANMF. Headquartered in New York, ANMF was established to serve a broader mission of helping Armenian women and children live happier and fuller lives.


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