Church support helps UNICEF with tetanus vaccination campaign in high-risk countries

The Church and UNICEF focus on maternal and neonatal tetanus — a preventable, but very deadly disease that tends to affect child-bearing women and their children

Nancy Nguidia is having her fifth baby soon. The 32-year-old mother from Central African Republic already has three girls and a boy.

In order to protect herself and her new baby, Nguidia recently received a vaccination against maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) — a preventable, but very deadly disease that tends to affect child-bearing women and their children.

Tetanus is contracted through exposure to bacteria that can enter through wounds or a newborn’s umbilical cord. MNT is easily preventable by a series of simple vaccines, clean delivery and proper cord care. But it is estimated that one baby still dies needlessly of tetanus every 21 minutes around the world.

MNT is a significant public health problem throughout areas of Africa, the Middle East and central and southeastern Asia — including in Afghanistan, Angola, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen.

Dr. Edna Doyama-Woza is leading the vaccination campaign in the Central African Republic.

“Once exposed to tetanus, the baby will stop breastfeeding within three days. That is when the muscles begin to stiffen. It is literally a death sentence for that baby,”  Doyama–Woza said in a Facebook post from Caring.ChurchofJesusChrist.

Through the work of UNICEF and the Church, more women and mothers like Nguidia will have access to these life-saving vaccines and can survive and thrive.

Church funding to help UNICEF eliminate tetanus

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported UNICEF’s maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination programs since 2014.

A $5 million donation from the Church in December 2022 gave UNICEF more support in their efforts to eliminate tetanus.

Mothers and children are waiting for their turn to be vaccinated at the health center of Ambatta, a suburb of Ndjamena, the capital of Chad. Immunization is free in Chad for children bellow 59 months, and is one of UNICEF’s country office key results for children.
Mothers and children wait their turn to be vaccinated in Chad, in Central Africa. | Frank Dejo, UNICEF

Dr. Bilal Ahmed, a specialist for maternal neonatal tetanus Elimination (MNTE) and immunization, and Dr. Modibo Kassogue, an immunization specialist, both with UNICEF, explained the efforts more in detail to the Church News.

They explained that almost all cases of maternal neonatal tetanus occur among the poorer segment of the population in low-income countries. And due to the bacterial nature of the disease, tetanus cannot be eradicated.

In 1999, the maternal neonatal tetanus elimination initiative began — focusing on 59 priority countries that were assessed to have more than one case of neonatal tetanus per 1,000 live births in 1999. Adding maternal tetanus to the goal, the initiative has focused on those countries ever since — and UNICEF has been instrumental in eliminating MNT in 47 of those countries.

Ahmed and Kassogue said more than 177 million women of reproductive age have been protected against MNT in high risk areas in target countries; neonatal deaths in tetanus have been reduced from 200,000 in 1999 to 24,000 in 2021.

With the generous support of the Church and other partners, UNICEF targets women of reproductive age with tetanus vaccination in high risk areas and educates expectant mothers on the importance of hygienic birth practices and clean cord care to prevent infection, they said.

They expressed their appreciation for the Church’s support of the MNTE program for more than nine years — especially in the last three to four years during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were funding constraints. The support from the Church allowed the initiative to remain in progress in high risk areas.

On the day of the donation in December, Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé said the Church is committed to the wellbeing of mothers and children.

“Today’s donation is only one of many recent efforts with respected organizations to address hunger, malnutrition and immunizations,” he said. “Every child is precious and deserves a healthy start to life. Children lift communities. It is an honor and privilege to support Rotary International, UNICEF and others in this important work.”

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