Health - League Table

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Neonatal tetanus death toll cut by a third

Attacking neonatal tetanus
Success of 'top 20' in reducing death toll:
  1990
deaths
1997
deaths
%
change
Brazil
Viet Nam
China
Egypt
Uganda
Indonesia
Philippines
Kenya
Bangladesh
Niger
Ghana
Myanmar
India
Pakistan
Nepal
Mozambique
Ethiopia
Somalia
Congo,
Dem. Rep.
Nigeria
5,900
6,200
75,700
4,000
7,500
22,800
4,700
5,100
38,600
4,200
4,000
4,400
77,700
36,300
6,700
3,900
14,800
6,500
7,200
 
23,400
80
400
13,700
740
2,200
7,100
1,900
2,500
20,700
2,400
2,400
3,200
59,100
29,700
5,800
3,600
15,600
7,000
8,200
 
37,900
99
94
82
82
71
69
60
51
46
43
40
27
24
18
13
8
-5
-8
-14
 
-62
Total 359,600 224,220  
Source: WHO, 1998.
In 1990, about 360,000 newborn babies died of neonatal tetanus in the 20 countries where it was most prevalent. Concerted efforts to eliminate the disease have dragged that figure down to 224,000, drastically reducing the toll of an insidious disease that attacks infants during the first days of life -- its earliest symptom, a facial spasm, often tragically mistaken for a baby's first smile.

Brazil recorded the greatest progress, slashing the death toll by 99%, from almost 6,000 deaths in 1990 to only 80 in 1997. Viet Nam did nearly as well, with deaths down by 94%. In terms of sheer numbers, China recorded the greatest cut: from more than 75,000 infants in 1990 to just under 14,000 in 1997, a fall of 82%.

Not all the news is good, however. Deaths in Nigeria surged from 23,000 to 38,000, the largest absolute increase worldwide, up by 62%.

Neonatal tetanus results from tetanus spores being introduced through poor hygiene during childbirth, often exacerbated by traditional childbirth practices, such as the use of clarified butter or even cattle dung to 'heal' the umbilical stump.

While the global goal of eliminating neonatal tetanus by the end of 1995 was not reached, the disease could still be eliminated by the turn of the century with increased political commitment. Additional funding of around $30 million would also be needed to target every high-risk area on the planet. New developments in immunization technology could prove invaluable, allowing non-health personnel to perform immunizations.

Copyright © UNICEF/91-4880/Lemoyne

Concerted efforts have dramatically cut neonatal tetanus deaths in most of the hardest-hit countries. Nigeria is an exception, with deaths up 62%. Nigerian women receive the tetanus vaccine, which will protect the children they bear.

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