A massive vaccination campaign against maternal and neonatal tetanus has just been launched in Niger. The aim? To eliminate this illness by 2010 – in a country in which one child in five dies before its fifth birthday. And where the maternal mortality rate (646 in every 100,000) is one of the highest in the world.
In all, more than 1.7 million women of reproductive age will be vaccinated over the course of the next four years. At present in the West African country of Niger, only one in four pregnant women receives the two doses of anti-tetanus vaccine that are the minimum requirement.
Tetanus is therefore a major cause of death among young mothers and newborn babies. Among newborns it strikes between 3 and 28 days after birth. An infection of the umbilical cord is usually the cause among these babies who are not protected by the mother’s antibodies… because she herself has not been vaccinated.
Maternal tetanus affects women during pregnancy or in the six weeks following the birth. As the WHO points out, “it is due to contamination by tetanus spores through puncture wounds”. In other words, it is linked “to abortions and births that take place under unsafe, unclean conditions”.