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Mauritania: drive to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus

© UNICEF/Mauritania/2009/Perez
Lalla Vatma, 14, confidently sit as the midwife prepares to give her the anti-tetanus vaccine.

Nouakchott, Mauritania, 16 June 2009 - Lalla Vatma, 14, leaves her classroom with some of her classmates. The school headmaster has already announced a day earlier the arrival of the tetanus vaccination team. The day before; the headmaster has visited all the classrooms and urged the teachers to encourage the school girls’ to get vaccinated during the widely announced immunization week. The expected mobile team consists of a volunteer and a midwife.

In this rather small school of Oualata, home to some 3,000 inhabitants, only 10 girls aged between 14 and 17 years are concerned. They all have already been vaccinated during the first round of this campaign a month ago.

Lalla Vatma remembers when her boy classmates were getting rather jealous during the first round of the campaign and they asked the teacher why girls were chosen to be vaccinated. The teacher then explained that it was only an immunization targeting future mothers to protect them and their new babies against tetanus, a "silent killer" which often results from unsanitary conditions at delivery.

The teacher then asked the boys “have you ever seen any pregnant boys?”. He suggested that boys can and should be vaccinated against others killer diseases such as measles during the routine vaccination activities in the health center.

Overcoming fear
Lalla Vatma admits that she was very scared the first time but the midwife explained her the importance of immunization and the risks that unvaccinated women and girls may face as neonatal and maternal tetanus (MNT) is a major cause of deaths in mothers and newborns.  The disease claims the lives of 230,000 mothers and children annually around the world.

© UNICEF/Mauritania/2009/Perez
This is Lalla Vatma's immunization card. The midwife can now fill it out to acknowledge that Lalla has just got the second shot on anti-tetanus vaccine. Only one to go!

As the midwife completes her immunization card to acknowledge that she received the second shot of MNT vaccine, Lalla Vatma is already looking forward to the next and final round that will ensure her immunity for life.

Once the vaccination campaign has been completed in the school, the mobile team continues its activities in the market place downtown.

One more week to save lives
Mauritania’s second tetanus immunization round took place from 26 to 30 May 2009. During that week, over 600 health agents covered 26 high risk districts, using both fixed and mobile teams to reach 233,000 women of childbearing age at schools, in market places and in the most remote rural areas.

The aim of the campaign is to eradicate maternal and neonatal tetanus. Progress has already been made but more efforts are still to be made.  Latest available data shows that only 60 per cent of the newborns are protected against tetanus.

The immunization week was made possible through the concerted efforts of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, WHO, with the support of several national and international organizations and the private-sector.

By Fadila Hamidi



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