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In Kenya, protecting against a silent killer

Maternal and neonatal tetanus is a disease of the poor; most cases are found in communities with limited access to immunization and to quality healthcare before, during and after birth.  Download this video


By Pieter Desloovere

Newborn deaths account for a staggering 44 per cent of total mortality among children under 5, and represent a larger proportion of under-5 deaths now than they did in 1990. These deaths tend to be among the poorest and most disadvantaged populations. According to a new series of papers released by The Lancet, the majority of children who die before they turn one month old – nearly 3 million each year – could be saved by better care around the time of birth.

Today, Aliaphonse will go for her 'chanjo' – the vaccination against tetanus that will protect her and the babies she might have from a highly fatal, preventable killer.

© UNICEF Video
A boat brings passengers across Lake Baringo to the health centre where they receive tetanus shots.

NAIROBI, Kenya,  2 June 2014 – Aliaphonse Arite is a bit nervous. The 15-year-old girl is about to be vaccinated against tetanus for the first time.

Aliaphonse will have her jab at her school, the Katuit primary school in Baringo County, Kenya.

“My teacher told me about tetanus,” she says. “It is very important to be vaccinated against it.”

A life-saving jab

Maternal and neonatal tetanus is a serious disease, with a high fatality rate for newborns.

Maternal and neonatal tetanus is a disease of the poor; most cases are found in communities with limited access to immunization and to quality healthcare before, during and after birth.

Tetanus is known as a ‘silent killer’. Many newborns and mothers affected by the disease die at home without ever being in contact with health providers. Often, neither birth nor death will be reported.

Vaccination and quality health care before, during and after birth are among the simple, proven solutions that help make sure that women and their babies don’t die from preventable diseases, like tetanus. Maternal and neonatal tetanus can be prevented if women are vaccinated against it. In fact, when mothers are vaccinated against tetanus, their immunity is passed on to their baby during pregnancy. 

© UNICEF Video
A girl receives a tetanus vaccination at the Kokwa Island health centre.

Campaign across Kenya

Aliaphonse had her vaccination as part of a recent campaign to protect women and babies across Kenya from tetanus. Sixty high-risk sub-counties participated in the campaign, which brought the life-saving jabs to women of childbearing age and their unborn babies.

Her native Baringo County was identified as one of the high-risk counties. The target for Baringo County was to reach 130,000 girls and women.

Acting County Director for Health for Baringo County Dr. Charles Kurgat talks about the many ways in which the disease can be contracted – hence the importance of immunization. “It can be gotten from cut wounds, from exposed wounds, from using unsterilized equipment – especially when separating the [umbilical] cord during delivery,” he says. “It can also be transmitted from the mother to the unborn child during the delivery.”

Success through schools

Involving schools such as Aliaphonse’s Katuit primary school is key to the success of the campaign – to ensure that all girls from underserved communities are immunized.

Through schools, says Ann Talam, one of Katuit primary school’s teachers who has been urging girls to have their vaccinations, the campaign reaches not only the members of the student body – but also their sisters, who may not attend school.

“I advise them not to neglect but make sure to go for the 'chanjo' [immunization],” says Ms. Talam.

And once she’s had her chanjo, Aliaphonse and any babies she might have will be armed against the silent killer.

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UNICEF Photography: Preventing tetanus

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