The United Nations Children's Fund has announced the start of a pilot program with local health officials designed to help immunize women against maternal and neonatal tetanus in remote, hard-to-reach areas. UNICEF said the project, which will begin in two districts in Mali, could save thousands of lives.
During the week-long campaign, health workers plan to immunize more than 100,000 women in remote areas of Mali - Bla and Bougoni.
UNICEF spokesman Marc Vergara said they will use a device that provides a single dose of vaccine from a pre-filled syringe. He said the vaccination can be administered by people who are not medical professionals.
"It is the first time the device is used by non-professionals on a large-scale. The device, Uniject, has been around for about 10, 12 years and the vaccine, of course, has been around for about 70 years and vaccination campaigns have been going on for dozens of years. So, that is not new. What is new is the combination of the three, the use of the device, the use of the vaccine and the use by non-professionals on a large-scale," he said.
Mr. Vergara said that if the project in Mali is successful, UNICEF and other participating sponsors plan similar campaigns in other countries. Ghana, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda are the most likely possibilities.
UNICEF said the use of lay people instead of trained health workers means many more people can be vaccinated in a short time. It hopes the campaign can help save the lives of thousands of women and their newborn children.
Last year, UNICEF reports about 200,000 newborns and 30,000 women died of tetanus in 57 developing countries. It said just 27 countries account for 90 percent of all cases of the disease. Eighteen of them are in Africa and the rest in the Middle East and South Asia.