New UNICEF effort to vaccinate mothers against tetanus could save thousands of

A new pre-filled injection device will make it easier to immunize women against maternal and neonatal tetanus, an effort that could potentially save the lives of thousands of mothers and their newborn children, the United Nations Children’s Fund ( UNICEF) said today. The announcement by the UN agency comes as it kicks off a campaign, which starts today in Mali, to get the vaccine to women in poor, hard-to-reach communities. The new device is a single dose, pre-filled syringe and needle that can be administered by lay people. According to UNICEF, maternal and neonatal tetanus – which occurs as a result of unhygienic birth practices, leading to contamination of the umbilical cord – can be eliminated globally through immunization and hygienic birth practices. It has often been difficult to reach patients in remote communities since only trained health workers can administer the traditional vaccination. As a result, last year alone, tetanus claimed the lives of 200,000 newborns and 30,000 women in 57 developing countries. “The introduction of a pre-filled injection device has the potential to greatly simplify the way this vaccination is given, making it possible to train non-medical personnel such as social workers and teachers to vaccinate women against tetanus,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “Our goal is the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus by 2005, and reaching women in remote areas is essential to succeeding.” The pre-filled device has additional advantages, UNICEF said, including lowering the possibility of transmitting blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Neonatal tetanus is common in poor countries, mostly affecting populations with little or no access to basic health care services and education. The disease, which was eliminated in the industrialized world as far back as the 1950s, is still a major killer of infants in the developing world, accounting for 14 per cent of all neonatal deaths.

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