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UN Campaign Aims to Eliminate Neonatal Tetanus Globally

The U.N. Children's Fund is launching a campaign in partnership with the global volunteer network, Kiwanis International, to eliminate neonatal tetanus in women and children around the world. UNICEF says this preventable disease kills around 60,000 newborns each year.

Most of the fatalities of maternal and neonatal tetanus occur in 40 countries in Africa and Southern and East Asia.

The U.N. Children's Fund says the disease kills one baby every nine minutes. UNICEF says newborns suffer excruciating pain before they die, including repeated, painful convulsions.

It says most of these babies die because they do not receive essential life-saving health care. UNICEF Spokesman Jeremy Hartley says maternal and neonatal tetanus is preventable through immunization and hygienic birth practices.

"The Eliminate Project as we are calling it aims to raise $110 million over the next five years in order to help and immunize women and children in countries where MNT [Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus] is most prevalent," he said. "It is one of those situations where MNT is extremely preventable. It takes $1.80 worth of a vaccine in order to vaccinate a woman from MNT."

If a woman is properly vaccinated with the tetanus vaccine, Hartley says she will have immunity throughout most of her childbearing years. He says UNICEF vaccination campaigns already have shown good results.

"And, we have managed to eliminate in 18 countries around the world already," added Hartley. "So, we believe this is a good start to a new push to eliminate a scourge, which needs to be addressed urgently."

Hartley says UNICEF has immunized 90 million women against neonatal tetanus in some of the most remote places on earth. As a result, he says, thousands of women and newborns, who otherwise might have died, are now alive.

Hartley says these immunization campaigns bring additional life-saving services to remote, high-risk areas. He says aid workers provide clean water, nutrition and vaccines against other potential killer diseases.