Another victory for vaccines: Uganda eliminates tetanus

Baby receives the pneumococcal vaccine

We’ve blogged a lot over the last few months about the importance of childhood vaccines. But kids aren’t the only ones who need vaccinations to stay healthy, and this week the global health community celebrated a major milestone when Uganda announced that it had eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus through a vaccination campaign for women of childbearing age.

Tetanus is a potentially deadly infection that can occur if a baby’s umbilical cord is cut with an unclean tool or if a harmful substance such as ash or cow dung is applied to the cord, as is traditional practice in some African countries. When tetanus develops, child death rates are extremely high, especially in countries where health systems are not strong and access to more advanced medical treatment can be difficult.

Protecting against neonatal tetanus actually begins before a baby is born. Mothers can receive the tetanus vaccine and learn about appropriate delivery and cord care practices to ensure the health of their babies. Significant global progress has been made over the last few decades: the WHO estimated that in 2008 (the latest year for which estimates are available), 59,000 newborns died from tetanus, a 92 percent reduction from deaths in the late 1980s. Yet 39 countries still have not eliminated the disease.

So how did Uganda do it? According to the news release from UNICEF, “Between 2002 and 2009, 25 high-risk districts in Uganda were targeted for intervention, and close to two million women of child bearing age received three doses of tetanus vaccines in those areas… 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.”

Congratulations to the Ugandan health officials, as well as the many partners of the Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Initiative, for this fantastic achievement. We celebrate one more example of the power of vaccines in keeping mothers and children healthy, and celebrate the thousands of lives that will be saved as we continue the push for global elimination.