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Gates gives UNICEF $10 million to fight maternal tetanus

NEW YORK, 17 November 2003 - UNICEF today received a $10 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fight maternal and neonatal tetanus, a major killer of newborns and their mothers.  As an extension of the $26 million given in 1999, this gift is a challenge grant to encourage other donors and foundations to contribute to UNICEF’s effort to eliminate the disease.

In the poorest and most remote areas of the world, maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) kills an estimated 230,000 mothers and babies annually.  At a cost of just $1.20 per woman, UNICEF can eliminate these needless deaths with a safe and effective vaccine that has been available in the developed world for more than 70 years.  The vaccine protects mothers for up to 10 years and their newborn babies for the critical first few months of life.

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's financial commitment to the elimination of MNT will help save the lives of millions of newborns and their mothers," said Charles J. Lyons, president of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.  "Because of the campaign to eliminate MNT and the support of the Gates Foundation, as many as 15,000 lives are saved annually.”

MNT strikes when tetanus spores, found in soil everywhere, come into contact with open cuts during childbirth in unsanitary conditions. Within days, tetanus spreads throughout the body, causing spasms, paralyzing stiffness and arching of the spine. Eighty percent of newborns and mothers who develop the disease die from it.

"Infant and maternal deaths from tetanus are tragic, especially given that the majority of these deaths could have been prevented with safe vaccines that are available today and simple hygiene during childbirth," said Dr. Regina Rabinovich, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Infectious Diseases program.  "MNT elimination is an achievable goal that will save the lives of thousands of mothers and children."

An estimated 207 million women still need to be immunized.  UNICEF is implementing a three-pronged approach to eliminating tetanus:

Immunization - Three properly spaced doses of the tetanus toxoid vaccine protects a woman for up to 10 years against tetanus, and protects her newborn for up to three months.

Promoting clean deliveries - UNICEF is helping train health workers in clean birthing techniques and teaching communities about the dangers of tetanus.

Surveillance - UNICEF and its partners identify areas in which mothers and newborns are at risk of tetanus; measure the quality of immunizations and clean delivery services; and monitor a country's elimination status and the sustainability of its achievement.

In order to achieve elimination of MNT worldwide by 2005, UNICEF needs to raise an additional $147 million.

About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is building upon the unprecedented opportunities of the 21st century to improve equity in global health and learning.  Led by Bill Gates' father, William H. Gates, Sr., and Patty Stonesifer, the Seattle-based foundation has an endowment of approximately $25 billion. 

Founded in 1946, UNICEF helps save, protect and improve the lives of children around the world through immunization, education, health care, nutrition, clean water, and sanitation. UNICEF is non-partisan and its cooperation is free of discrimination. In everything it does, the most disadvantaged children and the countries in greatest need have priority. If you would like to contribute to UNICEF's efforts to eliminate MNT please go to http://www.unicefusa.org/mnt/ or call 1-800-4UNICEF.

For additional information, please contact:

Marissa Buckanoff, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2485
Laura Contreras, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9166





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