Saving lives of women and babies from maternal and neonatal tetanus

Vaccine campaign in Mayendit, Mayom and Koch Counties in Unity State targets women of childbearing age

By Gabriel Galuak Kuiynin
A  woman receives a vaccine jab
UNICEF/Gabriel Galuak
26 March 2022

The State Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF, WHO and partners, has conducted a tetanus toxoid vaccine campaign in Mayendit, Mayom and Koch Counties in Unity State in South Sudan’s north – targeting women of childbearing age.

Tetanus toxoid is a vaccine used to vaccinate women of childbearing age to prevent tetanus for themselves and their infants and unborn babies. Tetanus is a dangerous infection caused by a bacteria found in the soil, dirt and rusted metals.

The tetanus toxoid infection can easily kill a pregnant mother during pregnancy or childbirth. It has also killed many babies during birthing where delivery occurs outside healthcare facilities. In many traditional deliveries, crude sharp instruments are used to cut the baby’s umbilical code from which the baby and the mother can easily get tetanus infection or from the unsterilized baby wrapping garments.

“This vaccine has brought life to us women and our babies. It has saved lives of many young girls and women and their newborn,” said Mary Chuol, a resident of Koch County. “Here, some years back, many women and babies die after delivery. In the recent years, death during delivery has reduced significantly,” she said.

Due to unimproved health facilities and few qualified antenatal care personnel, many women still deliver at home with the support of untrained traditional midwives.

The County Health Director of Koch County, Jackson Gatluak, said health services in the county have been facing many challenges including floods, poor road networks and insecurity in some locations.

Jackson said floods has displaced hundreds of people in the county onto islands, to nearby towns, or even fleeing with canoes to the state capital, Bentiu.

A man in a blue vest speaks into a loud speaker from a canoe while another man steers the boat.
Gatwech Ninrew
Social mobilizers in Mayiandit County rowing a canoe to islands to engage communities on the importance of the vaccine campaign.

“It takes them two days by canoe to reach Bentiu. Some women deliver on the way without safe deliveries, posing risks for mothers and their babies,” he said. He said some women on the islands do not get the tetanus vaccines or other vaccines for their babies because of lack of access.

To address this access issue, UNICEF and WHO provide logistical, technical and financial support to the Ministry of Health and the county health offices across the nine counties affected.

Due to floods, many of the areas cut off by water are only accessible by air. UNICEF fly in vaccines to these for routine and vaccination campaigns.

In Koch County, all areas need to be accessed on canoes from the local headquarters. Nyaluak Wargak, a UNICEF trained and supported social mobilizer, said they move with canoes to islands to engage the women of childbearing age on the importance of tetanus toxoid vaccine campaign. It often takes a full day to reach one location.

The campaign in Koch County targeted 144,675 people for community engagement activities and over 43,500 women of childbearing age were vaccinated – well over the target. Despite the challenges, the efforts of 50 UNICEF-supported social mobilizers and vaccinators were able to achieve this impressive result.

The maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination (MNTE) campaigns are supported through UNICEF national committees and funding from Procter & Gamble – Pampers.