Tetanus elimination campaign reaches the mountainous north of Lao PDR
Viengxay district, Huaphan province, Lao PDR, November 13 2009 - Four days after its official launch, a Lao Government campaign to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) is being taken to women in some of the remotest parts of the country. Among the latest districts to be reached is Viengsay, an ethnically-mixed region close to the mountainous north-eastern border with Vietnam.
At a boarding school for ethnic minority children pressed into service as a makeshift immunization centre, 154 female students – including many ethnic Hmong and Kmu -- stood in line to receive doses of tetanus vaccine. They’ve been joined by nearly 250 women from nearby villages. In a region where immunization rates have traditionally been low, local health officials said the large turnout was a welcome sign that the campaign would reach its targets.
“It’s a good idea to do the vaccination here at the school,” said Dr Phonevanh of the district health authority. “The girls are already here for class and the teachers can quickly organize them to receive the injection. “
Lao PDR is one of 44 countries world wide -- and one of eight in the East Asia Pacific region -- that have not yet eliminated MNT. The disease is a particular threat in rural areas where most most births take place at home without adequate sterile procedures. For newborn babies tetanus is usually fatal; worldwide, it kills over 200,000 newborns annually.
The campaign here has been boosted by high-level political support, including a speech last month by President Choummaly Sayasone in which he urged people at all levels of society to lend their support. A first immunization round from November 9-23 will be followed by two more, in January and November next year.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of maternal and neonatal tetanus cases to such low levels that it is no longer a major problem,” said Dr Aboudou Karimou Andele, Chief of Health & Nutrition at UNICEF in Laos, speaking at a campaign launch event in Pakse, southern Laos.
With the support of UNICEF, the World Health Organization, JICA and Lux-Development, World Vision, the government aims to vaccinate more than 800,000 women of reproductive age (aged 15-49 years) in high risk areas, as part of a series of initiatives to promote maternal, newborn and child health.
The new campaign has been extensively promoted in the media and by health staff to ensure women and children show up at vaccination points on designated days. In order to maximize the impact of the campaign, children aged under 5 years also receive Vitamin A supplements and de-worming tablets. In some high-risk areas young children also receive polio drops.
It’s in remote areas like much of Huaphan province that the challenge facing Ministry of Health officials -- who have set a target of reaching 95 per cent of all women of reproductive age – becomes obvious. Village chiefs like Mr Pam Phengxaykhan of Nathan village play a crucial role in ensuring that women are informed about the campaign and show up at the appropriate time -- despite the current harvesting season.
“Once we got word from provincial health staff, we put out word over the village public address system, as well as organizing a meeting with unit heads and staff from the Lao Women’s Union, ” said Mr Pam. As a result, 53 out of 59 women from Nathan village had been vaccinated by the third day of the campaign. The remaining six were travelling, he said, and it was not clear whether had been vaccinated or not.
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