Tetanus toxoid campaign is on again
By Noreen Chambers
Sixteen-year old high school student, Bernadette Kila wants to know if women who receive the tetanus toxoid vaccination will still be able to get pregnant.
“I also want to know why only women between the ages of 15 to 45 can get the TT vaccination,” she continues as a captive audience watches her ask her questions into a microphone handed to her by an assistant broadcaster.
Around her, other older women nod their heads in silent agreement, probably because they too, wonder about the same questions.
Edea Alokoka, a broadcaster and radio programme officer from the state-owned National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) who is hosting the outside broadcast, repeats the question in English for her listeners throughout the country and then effortlessly translates the questions into the local motuan vernacular for the benefit of her live audience.
“Tetanus Toxoid does not reduce fertility in a woman,” explains Mckenzie Kupo, guest speaker on the show and a Clinical Health Extension Officer and Officer in Charge of the Kupiano Health Centre.“This vaccination prevents mothers and new born babies from getting infected with the deadly tetanus disease. Pregnant women and new born babies can be infected with tetanus if unclean delivery practices are used and they can die from this disease. Men are not targeted in this campaign because they don’t get pregnant.” Kupo explains.
Tetanus is a bacterial disease that causes muscles to become tight, often causing a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. The bacteria that causes tetanus is found in soil and enters the body through a puncture or wound where it grows. In many parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG), pregnant women give birth in unhygienic conditions. This puts both the mother and her infant at risk of getting tetanus. Tetanus is deadly but a highly preventable disease.
Bernadette is prompted to ask these questions because she later explains that after she received her first TT shot during the first round of the campaign in April 2012, rumours were rife that the TT vaccination would cause infertility in women.
“There was no awareness done to inform us about what TT is all about and why it is important for us to get this vaccination. I was very worried when I heard the rumours. It’s important to know why we are getting this and I’m happy now because the health workers answered my questions and me and my friends know why we have to get this injection, “Bernadette explains.
The strategy to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus is made of three consecutive rounds of TT vaccination targeting childbearing women from 15 to 45 years and children under five. Each of the rounds should be achieved with high coverage in order to eliminate this disease and drastically reduce tetanus related deaths among women and newborns in the long run. In Papua New Guinea, this strategy is part of the Government’s efforts to promote an integrated maternal and child health approach that features a multi intervention. UNICEF is supporting the Government implement the TT campaign by supplying all the TT vaccinations for the campaign nationwide.
The first round of the campaign kicked off in April 2012 where 77 per cent of women of child bearing age country wide including pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 45 were immunised, 88 per cent of children under the age of five also received the measles immunisation, 84 per cent received vitamin A and a further 77 percent less than 12 months received the oral polio drop. Routine vaccines were also provided at the same time.
The second round was held in November, but didn’t cover the entire country as some provinces could not implement the campaign for various reasons. The third round started on 17 June 2013 and will extend up to 26 July 2013 to make sure that all the provinces and districts of the country are fully covered. A strong partnership between UNICEF and WHO is helping provide the necessary technical support to the Department of Health to make sure that this initiative is successful. However, additional efforts and resources are still needed to ensure that all provinces, including those who missed the second round, are revamped to achieve success.
PNG’s maternal mortality is considered a health crisis at 733 per 100,000 live births according to the country’s 2006 Demographic Health Survey. This means for every 100,000 live births over 730 mothers die. This is the second highest in the Asia Pacific Region second only to Afghanistan and quite high in comparison to the rest of the world.
Immunization is among the most equitable and most cost effective public health intervention that can be offered to women and children. Diseases such as tetanus that can be easily prevented by vaccines are a major cause of childhood and maternal illnesses and deaths.
In an effort to promote the third round of the TT campaign, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), in partnership with UNICEF and the Department of Health is promoting safe motherhood through radio. It does this though using its infrastructure to raise public awareness about health risks to pregnant women, help audiences identify those risks and save lives during pregnancy and childbirth, and encourage community support to maintain healthy environments for pregnant women and newborns.