Neonatal tetanus death toll cut by a third
Brazil recorded the greatest progress, slashing the death toll by 99%, from almost 6,000 deaths in 1990 to only 80 in 1997. Viet Nam did nearly as well, with deaths down by 94%. In terms of sheer numbers, China recorded the greatest cut: from more than 75,000 infants in 1990 to just under 14,000 in 1997, a fall of 82%.
Not all the news is good, however. Deaths in Nigeria surged from 23,000 to 38,000, the largest absolute increase worldwide, up by 62%.
Neonatal tetanus results from tetanus spores being introduced through poor hygiene during childbirth, often exacerbated by traditional childbirth practices, such as the use of clarified butter or even cattle dung to 'heal' the umbilical stump.
While the global goal of eliminating neonatal tetanus by the end of 1995 was not reached, the disease could still be eliminated by the turn of the century with increased political commitment. Additional funding of around $30 million would also be needed to target every high-risk area on the planet. New developments in immunization technology could prove invaluable, allowing non-health personnel to perform immunizations.
Concerted efforts have dramatically cut neonatal tetanus deaths in most of the hardest-hit countries. Nigeria is an exception, with deaths up 62%. Nigerian women receive the tetanus vaccine, which will protect the children they bear.