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Ghana eliminates maternal and neonatal tetanus

ACCRA, Ghana, 21 November 2011 - The Government of Ghana today announced that it has eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), bringing the total number of countries that have eliminated the disease since 2000 to 21.

UNICEF Representative, Dr. Iyabode Olusanmi, and World Health Organization (WHO) Representative, Dr, Daniel Kertesz, congratulated the Government of Ghana on the country’s achievement.

“The Ghana Health Service and its development partners have undertaken herculean efforts to ensure that every woman of childbearing age is vaccinated against tetanus,” Dr. Olusanmi and Dr. Kertesz jointly stated. “The Ghana Health Service’s hard work has paid off and the lives of thousands of women and their babies have been saved.”

This important milestone was confirmed in late October, at a meeting between the Government of Ghana, the WHO, and UNICEF.  This achievement is the culmination of years of focused efforts to ensure that every district in the country has high coverage of tetanus vaccination. 

In 2009, four districts were identified as high risk for MNT and special catch-up campaigns were organized to get the vaccine to every woman.  Two years later, when two districts in the Northern Region were found to have low vaccination coverage, special community outreach activities such as integration of Tetanus vaccination in the mass measles campaigns were conducted in the two districts. 

A survey conducted by WHO in mid-October 2011 did not find any newborn deaths due to tetanus and also confirmed that even these low performing districts had improved their immunization coverage. Although Ghana eliminated MNT, women and children still need to continue to be vaccinated as per schedule against tetanus.

Maternal and neonatal tetanus are defined as tetanus occurring during pregnancy or within 6 weeks after any type of pregnancy termination, and tetanus affecting babies within 1 month of life, respectively. MNT kills thousands of mothers and their babies every year, especially among poor populations and in areas with limited access to health services.

MNT is among the most common lethal consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord-care practices. Newborn babies can contract tetanus if the umbilical cord is cut with an unclean instrument leading to contamination of the cord with tetanus spores or if a harmful substance such as ash or cow dung is applied to the cord, a traditional practice in some African countries.  If contracted, the infection can cause a baby to develop muscle spasms that eventually stop it from breathing.  When tetanus develops, mortality death rates are extremely high, especially when appropriate medical care is not available. 

Yet, maternal and neonatal tetanus deaths can be easily prevented by immunizing mothers with the tetanus vaccine and emphasizing hygienic delivery and cord care practices.  These measures are critical because 40 per cent of Ghana’s deaths in children under 5 years of age occur in the first month after birth.

With Ghana joining the list of countries that has eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus, a total of 21 countries has reached the goal since 2000.  The MNT Elimination Initiative is an international private-public partnership that includes National Governments, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, GAVI, USAID/Immunization Basics,  CDC,  the Government of Japan ,  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Kiwanis International,  Pampers – a division of Proctor & Gamble, and Becton and Dickinson

UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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For more information, contact:
Offeibea Baddoo,
Tel + 0244 663643

Christian Moen, UNICEF, N.Y
Tel + 1 212 326 7516,




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