Côte d'Ivoire

Tetanus vaccination campaign aims for elimination in Côte d'Ivoire

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Sabra Seydou and her newborn baby. The mother was given an anti-tetanus serum before delivering to protect her and her child against tetanus.

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

By Eva Gilliam

DJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, 17 June 2009 – Sabra Seydou arrived at the Abobo Kennedy Clinic in Abidjan with just minutes to spare before giving birth. It was only her second visit to the clinic since the beginning of her pregnancy, as she could not afford all of the standard prenatal tests or consultations.

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She did, however, receive a first vaccination against tetanus, provided free by the government of Côte d'Ivoire. But Ms. Seydou had not yet received her scheduled second vaccination, which would have ensured immunity – for herself and her unborn child – against the deadly bacteria.

"We will prescribe her a tetanus serum, which will protect her and the child," explained midwife Bernadette Kah. "Then, the mother will also have another vaccination."

A major risk at childbirth

Tetanus is responsible for seven per cent of neonatal deaths worldwide. Yet routine tetanus vaccination is still low in Côte d'Ivoire.

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A three part tetanus campaign offers free tetanus vaccinations to women of childbearing age, aiming to immunize over 5 million women in the Ivory Coast.

The bacterium thrives in dirt and rust and can be contracted by newborns through unsanitary conditions during childbirth.

 "When the mother and child return home, the family will crush leaves and often mix them with charcoal or other ingredients, then apply them to the umbilical cord, as a way of cleaning the wound," explained the District Director of Eastern Abobo's Department of Health for the Government of Côte d'Ivoire, Dr. Mamadou Keita. "This is definitely not sterile." 

Vaccination campaign

To address this issue, the Government of Côte d'Ivoire, with the support of UNICEF and other international partners, is holding a three-phase vaccination campaign throughout the country. The campaign is offering free tetanus vaccinations to over five million women. 

Campaign organizers have had to overcome early opposition to the vaccinations.

"At first people were scared," said vaccinator Awa Kone, who is studying to be a midwife. "Then the word spread that it was fine, and now everyone is coming back for their follow-up shots"

To reach every neighbourhood in the country also involves complicated logistics. 

"We put the vaccines into coolers, and keep the coolers in refrigerated trucks. We take the vaccines to districts, then they distribute them to the health centres and the sites," explained logistician with the National Institute of Public Hygiene, Ange Niama.

Reducing maternal mortality

In Côte d'Ivoire, the national infant mortality rate reaches 89 out of 1000 live births, with maternal mortality at 810 in 100,000 live births.

Routine immunizations for tetanus and other deadly and paralyzing diseases, such as measles and polio, continue throughout the year, as part of the Côte d'Ivoire's commitment to health and development.
 
"Côte d'Ivoire is still one of the 39 countries in the world that has an elevated incidence of tetanus," says UNICEF Country Representative Maarit Hirvonen. "With all the work being done on this three-phase tetanus campaign, we are hoping that the country will get its [tetanus-elimination] certification by 2010."


 

 

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UNICEF's Eva Gilliam reports on the Ivory Coast's campaign to eliminate tetanus among women and newborns.
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