VIENTIANE, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 14 February 2011– As morning broke in the province of Bollikhamxay, health workers made final preparations for a mass immunization drive targeting women and children from surrounding villages. Tucked into the rolling mountainous landscape of Laos, Bollikhamxay is one of many provinces that recently conducted the third round of a national campaign designed to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus, or MNT, by 2012.
|VIDEO: UNICEF's Rachel O'Brien reports on the UNICEF-supported national campaign to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus in Lao PDR by 2012. Watch in RealPlayer|
Tetanus is a rapid and painful killer, globally affecting tens of thousands of newborns each year. Lao PDR is one of the few remaining countries in Asia still affected by this disease, which is a common consequence of unhygienic deliveries and poor umbilical cord practices.
The two-year campaign, which started in December 2009, comprised three rounds of immunization for girls and women from 15 to 45 years of age, and vitamin A and de-worming capsules for children aged 6 to 59 months.
High turn-out is essential
The aim of this effort: to reduce the number of maternal and neonatal tetanus cases to such low levels that MNT is no longer a threat to public health.
|© UNICEF video|
|A woman receives a tetanus vaccination in Lao PDR's remote Bollikhamxay Province during the third round of a national campaign to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus, which results from unhygienic conditions during childbirth.|
For the health workers, achieving a high turn-out is essential. And it is evident, here in the heart of rural Laos, that people understand the importance of protecting themselves against tetanus.
“In this district we have a strong commitment to raising awareness about immunization,” said Dr. Somphone Lassavong, head of the Vienthong District Health Office. “It is essential we have good coordination with district and village committees so our communities can be informed about the benefits of the vaccine.”
UNICEF a key supporter
In a country where it can take days to reach the nearest hospital, mobile vaccination clinics that travel from village to village play a crucial role in reaching even the most remote locations.
|© UNICEF video|
|A child receives vitamin A and de-worming capsules as part of a two-year campaign to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus in Lao PDR, one of the few remaining countries in Asia still affected by this disease.|
“In the past, I have seen many children becoming infected because we had no way of receiving this vaccine and preventing this disease,” a villager in Nam Van Kai told UNICEF. “Since this campaign has come to our village I have witnessed a change in the health of our community.”
Having joined forces with the World Health Organization and Lux Development, UNICEF is a key supporter of the campaign.
“Helping countries to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus is a global UNICEF objective,” explained UNICEF Lao PDR Immunization Specialist Dr. Ataur Rahman. “Thanks to our donors, partners and strong political support, we hope this campaign will boost tetanus protection levels throughout the country and help us achieve virtual elimination of this disease.”
One step closer
While progress continues to be made, discussions are ongoing to assess whether an additional campaign is needed in areas with low tetanus immunity.
Here in Bollikhamxay province, however, as the health workers gathered their vaccines to move to the next village, the goal of elimination travelled with them. Each stop they made brought Lao PDR one step closer to achieving virtual elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus by 2012.