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Great news for mothers and babies in Kenya, and everyone who cares about them: Kenya will soon receive the official certificate declaring it is the 45th country since 1999 to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT).
There are just 14 countries left around the world still facing the threat of MNT, an excruciating and often fatal disease that affects mothers and newborns, usually through unhygienic childbirth and umbilical cord care practices.
Reducing deaths from neonatal tetanus is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reduce the neonatal mortality rate
Reducing deaths from neonatal tetanus is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reduce the neonatal mortality rate. Tetanus transmission can be prevented during childbirth by improving immunization services, especially for pregnant women; promoting clean delivery and cord-care practices; and strengthening disease surveillance and case investigation.
Kenya's progress towards achieving this important public health milestone began in 2001. The country introduced the five-dose tetanus-toxoid vaccination schedule in 2002, and started implementing immunization campaigns in high-risk areas in 2003. In addition, the country focused on providing free maternity services to increase skilled birth attendants; improving antenatal care by including tetanus toxoid vaccines into the routine antenatal care packages; strengthening health facilities and resources; and providing free medical care to children under five years of age.
In 2014, UNICEF USA and Kiwanis International sent a delegation to Kenya to see firsthand the impact UNICEF immunization efforts were having on women and babies. During their trip, they visited a sub-county hospital where they were briefed on health issues and immunization activities. They also toured the Angata Barrikoi Health Center, where they saw the mother-child health unit and visited with women who were waiting to be vaccinated.
Charlet Long Little, a member of the San Antonio Army Resident Golden K Kiwanis club, reflected on her trip and how impressed she was to see "how well the people in the most remote villages had been educated about the importance of getting their immunizations."
The Eliminate Project vaccinates women and teaches the importance of prenatal care and safe birthing practices
Another Kiwanis International delegate, Mark Rabaut (who later served as Kiwanis Children's Fund President 2015-2016) spoke on the importance of The Eliminate Project. "[It] goes way beyond three tetanus vaccines. It teaches the importance of prenatal care and safe birthing practices, which will help save the lives of moms and babies for years and years. It also helps us as Kiwanis members to see globally and to spread our service outside of our immediate areas."
This is a moment to celebrate the achievements made since 2000. While we've reached a significant milestone, the fact that 34,000 babies still die from a completely preventable disease like tetanus remains an intolerable outrage. UNICEF and partners won't stop providing the required resources to reach the most underserved communities and protect every woman, every baby and every family against tetanus, until the day that we reach global maternal and neonatal elimination.
We've reached a significant milestone, but 34,000 babies still die from MNT every year
UNICEF and partners are calling on everyone — from governments and advocates to donors and members of the general public — to do what they can to help increase immunization coverage in their communities.
Because every dollar spent on all forms of childhood immunizations yields an estimated $44 in economic and social benefits.
And because immunization provides a foundation for good health at the start of life, and puts children on a path toward a healthier, more productive future.
Show your support: Add your name to our petition urging the U.S. Congress to maintain funding for programs needed to further reduce child mortality — including more access to lifesaving vaccines — via the bipartisan Reach Every Mother and Child Act.
The MNT Elimination Initiative is an international private-public partnership that includes national governments; UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, GAVI, USAID/Immunization Basics, CDC, UNICEF national committees, the government of Canada, the government of Japan, Save the Children, PATH, RMHC, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Kiwanis International, Pampers, a brand of Proctor & Gamble, BD, and LDS Charities.
Photos © Shravan Vidyarthi for UNICEF USA