By Matt Maura
Bahamas Information Services
THE introduction of a number of disease preventing vaccinations at the public healthcare level in the Bahamas, particularly over the past three years, has allowed the country’s public healthcare sector to stay on the cutting-edge of the public healthcare field within the region and indeed the Americas, according to Dr Delon Brennen, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of the Bahamas.
Addressing public health nurses attending an EPI Seminar at the Bahamas Red Cross Training Centre as a part of the activities celebrating Vaccination Week in the Americas, Dr Brennen said the Bahamas has taken the opportunity to “lead the charge in ensuring that we have the antigens in place when it comes to vaccines to protect all of our people.”
Those vaccinations have helped prevent and/or lead to decreases in a number of diseases/illnesses in Bahamians including cancers such as liver, ovarian, and penile cancer, sclerosis of the liver, chicken pox and pneumonia, among others.
The introduction of the HPV vaccine for the protection of girls and women in the Bahamas is expected to reap further dividends as the vaccine helps in the fight against cervical cancer – the second leading cause of death amongst women globally.
“Vaccination is one of the things that we know works as our history here in the Bahamas in fighting, eradicating and reducing a number of diseases has shown,” Dr Brennen said.
“Within the past three years we have introduced a whole new set of antigens into our national immunisation schedule (as) we were able to add the pneumococcal vaccine (which helps fight pneumonia and inner ear infections in infants and children) and the varicella vaccine (which fights chicken pox) amongst others.
The two vaccines have led to decreases in pneumonia and inner ear infections in the Bahamas, and chicken pox.
“We have seen a decrease in the number of persons, particularly children, reporting with pneumonias, ear infections and fevers and a lot of that is related to what we have been able to do on the frontline in protecting them with these vaccines,” Dr Brennen added.
The country’s public health system has gained regional and international acclaim for attaining 100 per cent coverage against diseases/illnesses such as malaria, diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus, mumps, rubella and Hepatitis B. Public Health officials say the introduction of the HPV vaccine for women and young girls “is another bold step in being able to introduce other things into our grouping that will be able to have the same kind of successes over time”, particularly in the fight cervical cancer.
“The issues that you see on the frontline related to cervical cancer, to genital warts, ovarian cancer, penile cancer, we have the tools in order to address those,” Dr Brennen said.
“The introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is a huge ideal that has come to reality: we have the ability to impress upon our entire population to be able to protect themselves against yet another one of those vaccine preventable diseases, (so) that 20-30 years down the road we are no longer talking about that high rate of cervical cancer that we have here in the country that we need to protect our women against; and the same thing happens to our men (with) the warts, the penile cancers, etcetera.
“We may be small in number, but we are going to be the ones to ensure that we have the antigens in place when it comes to vaccines to protect each other,” Dr Brennen added.
Dr Brennen said the introduction of the Hepatitis B vaccine has also had a profound effect upon the public healthcare sector of the Bahamas.
“We did not think that there was going to be a day and time when we were going to be able to prevent cancers by having it done through a vaccine,” he said, “but this is not the first time we have done so. In introducing the Hepatitis B Vaccine that’s exactly what we did. We were able to prevent people from leading to liver sclerosis and then to liver cancer by being able to introduce it.”
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer applauded public health nurses for their outstanding contributions to the public healthcare sector of the Bahamas and the fact that their work has helped the country to attain regional and international recognition in the public healthcare sector. He encouraged them not to sit on their laurels.
The seminar, he said, was a step in the right direction and “one of the many initiatives that are going to be taken as we move towards Universal Health Coverage through National Health Insurance.”
Vaccination Week in the Americas was first celebrated in 2003. Twelve years later, more than 519 million persons have been vaccinated globally under the framework of the initiative.