|© UNICEF Lao PDR/2009|
|A woman receives a Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus vaccination in Luang Prabang province.|
VIENGXAY DISTRICT, Lao PDR, 16 December 2009 – Four days after its official launch, a Government campaign to eliminate Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) in Lao PDR is being taken to women in some of the most remote parts of the country.
Among the latest districts to be reached is Viengsay, a remote region close to the mountainous north-eastern border with Vietnam.
At a boarding school being used as a makeshift immunization centre last month, 154 female students – including many ethnic Hmong and Kmu – stood in line to receive the tetanus vaccine. They were 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. The Government aims to vaccinate more than 800,000 women between the ages of 15-49 in high-risk areas by the third round of the campaign next year.
“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.”
A threat in rural areas
Lao PDR is one of 44 countries worldwide – 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.
|© UNICEF Lao PDR/2009|
|Balloons give the Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus vaccination campaign a colourful lift-off at a launch event in Pakse.|
For newborn babies, tetanus is usually fatal. WHO estimates that in 2004, 128,000 newborns died of Neonatal Tetanus.
The campaign has been boosted by high-level political support, including a speech last month by Lao President Choummaly Sayasone in which he urged people at all levels of society to lend their support.
“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 UNICEF Laos PDR Chief of Health and Nutrition Dr. Aboudou Karimou Andele, at a campaign launch event in Pakse.
The campaign is taking place with the support of UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Luxembourg Agency for Development Cooperation (Lux-Development) and World Vision.
Village chiefs play a crucial role
The new campaign has been extensively promoted in the media and by local health workers. In order to maximize impact, children aged under five also receive Vitamin A supplements and de-worming tablets. In some high-risk areas young children also receive polio drops.
In remote areas like Huaphan province, the Ministry of Health’s target of reaching 95 per cent of all women of reproductive age becomes a challenge. Village chiefs like 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.
“Once we got word from provincial health staff, we put out word over the village public address system, as well as organized 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.