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Central African Republic

Tetanus elimination campaign focuses on women, children and Pygmy groups

© UNICEF CAR/2008/Holtz
A Pygmy girl in Lobaye proudly displays the vaccination card she received as a record of her inoculation.

By Emily Bamford

LOBAYE, Central African Republic, 29 January 2008 – One-month-old Kpa has been suffering from a high fever, severe muscle seizures and an inability to eat since birth – all classic symptoms of neonatal tetanus. To save her baby, Tatyana left her Aka Pygmy community deep in the forest and walked more than 15 km to find a hospital.

“I just want my child to be healthy,” says her mother, 19-year-old Tatyana, as she rocks the newborn in her arms. 

Tetanus is the seventh biggest killer in the Central African Republic (CAR). Pygmies, who often lack access to health and sanitation facilities, are among the most vulnerable to the disease. The life-saving treatment is too expensive for most people in Lobaye, who, in many cases live a subsistence lifestyle.

Kpa was lucky, however, as other members of the community put together what little money they had to fund the baby’s medical costs. Yet even with medication, the vast majority of babies who are infected with neonatal tetanus do not survive. 

Week-long national immunization campaign

In response, the Aka Pygmies were recently among the more than 1.5 million women and children who took part in a week-long 'Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Campaign' across CAR.

© UNICEF CAR/2008/Holtz
Women and children wait to receive vaccinations and medical supplements as part of the 'Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Campaign' aimed at boosting child survival in CAR.

Supported by UNICEF, in collaboration with the CAR Ministry of Health and the United Nations Population Fund, campaign organizers immunized women of child-bearing age against tetanus and provided children with vitamin A supplements, basic immunizations and de-worming treatment.

UNICEF is also supporting the Italian non-governmental organization, Cooperazione Internazionale, in a project that is promoting the rights of Pygmies in the Lobaye area.

Lifesaving interventions

Fruits, vegetables and meat are widely available to the Aka Pygmies who reside in the forest. They are almost entirely self-sufficient and eat relatively well. However, without access to health and sanitation facilities, children here are also more likely to suffer from common parasites such as worms – a condition which can be life-threatening if untreated.

In the case of the Aka Pygmies, help is urgently required as they slowly begin to succumb to disease, chronic poverty and marginalization by the larger society. Many are gradually moving closer to larger towns and villages where social stigmatization often means they are turned away from schools and hospitals. In desperate need of income, many are exploited for their labour. 

“Life in the forest can be tough. We have no money so cannot always afford to send our children to hospital when they get sick. We also regularly face stigma from local populations –  we don’t like to leave the forest.  Remaining in Ngouma is very important to us, it is where we belong,” says Kano, a 28-year-old mother of three.

Providing the Pygmies with basic lifesaving interventions such as vaccinations and medicine is a small step towards ensuring the long-term welfare of this forgotten population. 




29 January 2008:
UNICEF Chief of Communication for Central and West Africa Martin Dawes discusses the 'Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Campaign'.
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