Maternal and neonatal tetanus is a disease that kills tens of thousands of newborns each year most of them in developing countries. The disease is often called the “silent killer” because many newborns affected by it die at home in very remote and poor communities where both the births and the deaths go unreported.
"We congratulate the Government of Viet Nam on achieving this critical goal for children and women. This accomplishment demonstrates that life-saving vaccines can be delivered to even the poorest and most marginalized communities,” said Anupama Rao Singh, Regional Director of UNICEF for East Asia and the Pacific. "UNICEF remains committed to working with all partners to target and invest more in maternal and child health services to reach the most vulnerable."
A survey conducted by UNICEF, WHO and the Government of Viet Nam in three of Vietnam's disadvantaged districts — Bao Yen and Bao Thang in Lao Cai Province, and Phuoc Long in Binh Phuoc Province — showed less than one neonatal tetanus death per 1000 live births. If neonatal tetanus is shown to be eliminated in the most underserved and poorest performing areas, it is considered as having been eliminated in better performing areas.
"These excellent results mark a major achievement by a country that used to have a high incidence of neonatal tetanus. All countries in the WHO Western Pacific Region have made progress towards neonatal tetanus elimination. Viet Nam has shown that government commitment, hard work and partnerships lead to results. We are hopeful that several other countries in the region will soon follow Viet Nam's example," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. Five countries in the Western Pacific have yet to reach the elimination goal of one case per 1000 live births at district level.
Maternal and neonatal tetanus is preventable through hygienic birth practices and immunization of women of child-bearing age with the tetanus toxoid (TT) vaccine. Immunizing such women confers protection against the disease to their newborns and also protects them against maternal tetanus, an equally deadly disease. Unprotected newborns can be infected with tetanus due to unhygienic birthing practices, such as cutting the umbilical cord with un-sterile instruments or applying contaminated dressings. The presence of tetanus spores can cause a disease that is deadly for the vast majority of infected babies.
"More than ten years of accelerated immunization activities targeting women in high-risk districts of the country and pregnant women, are paying off and we will make every effort to sustain this progress against a disease that kills but which can be prevented," said Professor Tran Thi Trung Chien, Minister of Health, Viet Nam.
In the 1980s, in Vietnam there were approximately ten neonatal deaths due to tetanus per 1000 live births. Some 20 000 Vietnamese babies died annually of tetanus before the age of one month. Since 1991, TT vaccine has been routinely given to pregnant women throughout Viet Nam through its Expanded Programme on Immunization resulting in a high vaccination coverage rate; accelerated activities began in 1993.
Today, the Ministry of Health of Viet Nam is holding festivities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Expanded Programme on Immunization. The Programme is the foundation for achievements such as the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus as a public health problem.
In 2000, 58 countries in the world had yet to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus. Vietnam is the ninth country and first East Asian country within the priority country group that has been assessed and validated as having eliminated these diseases. The other eight are Eritrea, Malawi, Namibia, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo and Zimbabwe.
Major contributors of financial and technical support to maternal and neonatal elimination efforts in Viet Nam include: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Beckton & Dickinson (a medical technology company), the government of Japan, AusAid, US Fund for UNICEF, UNICEF and WHO.
For more information, please contact:
UNICEF East Asia and Pacific: Tani Ruiz, Tel.: + 66 2 356 9409; E-mail: email@example.com
WHO: Melinda Henry, Tel.: +41 22 791 2535, Mobile: +41 79 477 17 38; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHO Viet Nam: Dr Hitoshi Murakami, Tel.: +84 4 943 37 34 ; E-mail: email@example.com