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Tetanus Vaccination to save lives of mothers and newborns in conflict-affected Yemen

UNICEF Yemen/2017/Rasheed
© UNICEF Yemen/2017/Rasheed
Arwein Ahmed, a 26 year old mother from Kastro area of Malla district in Aden with her baby shows off her vaccination card.

With rising cases of deaths related to childbirth in Yemen, UNICEF is raising awareness on the importance of tetanus vaccines for protecting mothers and their newborns

By Ansar Rasheed

ADEN-Yemen, 13 June, 2017 -Arwein Ahmed is a 26 year old mother from Kastro area of Malla district in Aden. This is a remote and impoverished area where most people live in shanty homes made of cardboard, plastic sheets and other waste material. Arwein was breastfeeding her four-month old son Abdulrahman and singing him a lullaby when we met her. Her son is healthy and happy.

Arwein attributes her child’s good health to the timely tetanus injections she had taken during her pregnancy.

“When I was pregnant I was very anxious. I know of a woman in my neighborhood who lost her first child during delivery, a child she and her husband had been eagerly waiting for. They lost the child because the local midwife had used contaminated tools during childbirth,” says Arwein who had heard several stories from the antenatal care health workers of children dying during delivery. It was mostly because the mothers had not taken tetanus vaccine. “That encouraged me to take the tetanus vaccine so my child could have good immunity and I could have a safe delivery. I visited the antennal care center frequently and took the Tetanus vaccine dosages. You can see here is my little healthy child Abdulrahman, alive and kicking,” she smiled.

Earlier, Arwein had believed that vaccines were meant only for children. “Now I know that all pregnant women and women of childbearing age should take it too. It is critical and lifesaving,” she asserts.

Nurse Nada Al-Jabri, an antenatal care staff at the Crater health facility says that in the rural areas and among the mainly impoverished communities, several cases of death during childbirth have been common. Most of the recorded deaths she says are linked to Tetanus.

“I have been working in this antennal care center for 15 years. Most of the people from marginalized sections think that vaccination is a luxury not meant for the poor. We need to create more awareness and make more efforts to disseminate information in the community. Awareness will encourage the community to embrace vaccines. This acceptance then needs to be linked with easily accessible and readily available free services,” she says.

UNICEF Yemen/2017/Rasheed
© UNICEF Yemen/2017/Rasheed
Nurse Nada Al-Jabri vaccinates a young woman during a Tetanus campaign in schools.

UNICEF is rolling a Communication for Development (C4D) campaign to raise awareness about Tetanus among adolescent girls and expectant mothers. The work is mainly carried out by locally recruited community volunteers and community mobilisers.

In Al Dhale in the southern part of Yemen, 18-year old Majida Mahmoud is one such volunteers. Immensely popular her in her village, her appeal and charisma are clearly evident from the moment we met her. She was just back from a session with some women in her village, talking to them about the importance of taking the Tetanus vaccine. We noticed that she has great influence among the village women.

Majida lost her sister Amina to a miscarriage caused by Tetanus. “I can never forget her face as she lay in pain, dying. Amina never took the vaccine; if she did she could have saved her life and that of her child. Since then, I have pledged myself to promote the importance of the Tetanus vaccine for all women aged 15 to 49; to protect themselves and their babies”, says Majida.

She appeals to pregnant women, explaining to them the benefits of taking the Tetanus vaccine during pregnancy as advised by doctors. “People need to know more about this vaccine’s importance. In my village we have cases of women who died while giving birth or during pregnancy. All miscarriages were not due to delivery complications, some were due to Tetanus,” she says.

Majida’s is not an isolated case. There are many stories of women who have undergone the traumatic experience of losing a dear one to Tetanus. Some, like Majida, have stepped forward to engage with their communities, raising awareness about the importance of the Tetanus vaccine to protect pregnant women and children.

Aiming to support the provision of essential health and nutrition services in Yemen and seeking to maintain the capacities of the national health system, UNICEF - under the Emergency Health and Nutrition Project (EHNP), in partnership with The World Bank and the World Health Organization - has been able to procure, bring into the country and distribute traditional vaccines in health facilities across Yemen. Through its Communication for Development (C4D) programme, UNICEF also works to ensure that women like Majida are aware of health risks and seek for available health services. 



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