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Tetanus jabs for 686,000 primary school children in Kenya

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: Kenya tetanus immunization
© UNICEF Kenya/2006/Bonn
Children being immunized against tetanus in Mlaleo Primary School, located in a rural area on the outskirts of Mombasa, Kenya.

By Julie Mwabe

NAIROBI, Kenya, 21 June 2006 – Amina Abdi, 7, a student at Ganjoni Primary School in Mombasa, Kenya, shut her eyes tightly and clenched her little fists as she received her jab.

“It wasn’t too bad,” she said with a smile when asked whether the injection had hurt. Meanwhile, the rest of her classmates anxiously waited in line for their turn.

Amina is one of the many children in primary schools across Kenya’s Coast Province who received tetanus shots last month and are getting another round of inoculations this week. The tetanus initiative is sponsored by UNICEF in collaboration with the Kenyan Ministries of Health and Education.
The first phase of the vaccination campaign ran from 15 through 19 May. The second phase kicked off on 19 June and ends today. The third and final round will take place in November.

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: Kenya children tetanus immunization
© UNICEF Kenya/2006/Bonn
The introduction of free primary education in Kenya has made it possible to reach a large percentage of school-age children with immunization against tetanus.

Lifelong protection

“The aim this year is to reach 686,464 children mainly from rural areas with three doses of the vaccine,” said the Provincial Director of Health, Anderson Kahindi. “This is the beginning of a long-term plan to vaccinate all children age 7 to 14 years in the districts most at risk by vaccinating them at school.” 

Ultimately, the strategy will ensure that children receive the five doses of the tetanus toxoid (TT) vaccine necessary to equip them with lifelong protection. If successful, this strategy should lead to the elimination of tetanus in Coast Province.

Tetanus is a bacterium that thrives in humid, unhygienic conditions. It can infect boys and girls who cut themselves during play and can attack mothers and infants during birth, when unclean instruments are used to cut and treat the umbilical cord. 

The disease rages through newborns within days of their exposure to the bacteria and almost always delivers a swift, brutal and painful death. Worldwide in 2004, at least 150,000 babies and more than 30,000 mothers died from the disease.

By getting vaccinated against tetanus, Amina is on her way to protecting not only herself but also her future unborn children from the disease.

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: Tetanus vaccination in Mombasa
© UNICEF Kenya/2006/Bonn
Children in line to receive their tetanus vaccination in Ganjoni Primary School, Mombasa. The vaccinations took place during the first of three rounds in May.

High enrolment rates

The TT programme targets girls and boys whether they are enrolled in school or not, but it focuses on primary schools in seven high-risk districts in Coast Province (Mombasa, Malindi, Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu, Kwale and Taita Taveta). In addition to immunization, children receive de-worming tablets to improve nutrition and health.

The introduction of free primary education in Kenya – which has resulted in high enrolment rates – has made it possible to reach a large percentage of school-age children with tetanus vaccine. More than 80 per cent of children in Coast Province are enrolled in school, and the drop-out rate is less than 5 per cent in most districts.
“If we can get all the children vaccinated, we will not have to worry about losing them to tetanus in case they hurt themselves while playing,” said a head teacher at Mlaleo Primary School, Mariam Omar.

Previously, some parents were against taking their children to hospitals to get the TT vaccination because they were not prepared to pay, added Ms. Omar. “This free programme will ensure many more children are reached,” she said.




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