Uganda free of maternal and neonatal tetanus, UNICEF reports

By United Nations
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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has lauded the efforts of Uganda, which has become the 20th country since 2000 to have eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT).

A UN-supported programme targeted 25 high-risk districts in Uganda and vaccinated close to two million women of child bearing age between 2002 and 2009, the agency said in a news release issued yesterday.

In compliance with the UN World Health Organization's guidelines, the most at-risk district for MNT in a given country must have no recorded cases for a specific period of time in order to claim elimination.

In 2010, Uganda reported it had eliminated the disease – and this year, a validation survey has taken place, confirming Uganda's elimination campaign has been successful.

“This is a historic achievement for Uganda, and the Government should be applauded for their commitment to eliminating this killer disease,” said Dr. Sharad Sapra, UNICEF Uganda Country Representative.

Newborn babies can contract tetanus if the umbilical cord is cut with an unclean instrument 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.

MNT is among the most common lethal consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord-care practices. When tetanus develops, mortality rates are extremely high, especially when appropriate medical care is not available.

Maternal and neonatal tetanus deaths can be prevented by immunizing mothers with the tetanus vaccine and emphasizing hygienic delivery and cord care practices.

“With the continued support from the initiative and the continued commitment from the Government of Uganda, we are confident that MNT will not return to Uganda and unnecessarily claim lives,” said Dr. Sapra.

The Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination campaign in Uganda is supported by, among other agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UNICEF, WHO and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).