NEW YORK, 22 February 2011 - Despite an estimated 90 per cent decline in global maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) deaths over the last two decades, a newborn child still dies every nine minutes from the disease, according to the latest available figures. While MNT deaths have dropped globally from an estimated 800,000 in the late 1980s to 59,000 in 2008, the deaths that still occur are disproportionately concentrated among poor, uneducated and neglected populations.
UNICEF and other global MNT partners are gathering today in New York for a two-day meeting to discuss strategies to address the inequity in MNT mortality and for reaching communities where tetanus remains a public health problem. Because many MNT deaths occur at home and in underserved communities, they go unreported, masking the true extent of the death toll.
The majority of deaths occur in Africa and southern and east Asia, generally in areas where women are poor, have little access to health care, and have little information about safe delivery practices. Without hospital care the fatality rate for tetanus can be as high as 100 percent and from 10 percent to 60 percent with hospital care.
Although MNT is a swift and painful killer, it is easily preventable through immunization of women with tetanus toxoid (TT) vaccine, which also confers immunity for the first month of life to a child born to an immunized woman. Protective measures also include hygienic birth practices to ensure infection is not contracted by mother or newborn during the birth process and proper cord care to ensure that contamination of cord does not put the newborn at risk.
The World Health Assembly first called for elimination of neonatal tetanus in 1989, and this was endorsed by the World Summit for Children in 1990. In 1999, the goal was expanded to include elimination of maternal tetanus as well. The goal of the initiative is to eliminate MNT in countries where it was still a public health problem, with a baseline of 58 countries in 1999. Since 1999, close to 100 million women have been immunized with two or more doses of TT vaccine through immunization campaigns and 20 of the 58 countries have achieved MNT elimination. Today, 38 countries still have not eliminated the disease.
Countries that have been validated to have eliminated MNT from 2000 to date: Bangladesh, Benin, Burundi, Comoros, Congo Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
UNICEF is committed to eliminating MNT as a public health problem, a goal shared by our partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), Becton Dickinson and Company (BD), USAID, CDC, Immunisation Basics, Government of Japan and JICA, Save the Children, GAVI, P&G (Pampers), PATH, RMHC, the Gates Foundation, UNICEF National committees and governments throughout the world. Recently the Kiwanis International has joined the partnership.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org
For more information, please contact:
Rebecca Fordham, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7162,