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Afghanistan: UNICEF kicks off campaign to wipe out neonatal tetanus

Afghanistan: UNICEF kicks off campaign to wipe out neonatal tetanus

The United Nations today kicked off a drive in Afghanistan aimed at eliminating neonatal tetanus, which kills an estimated 11,000 newborns in the country each year.

The disease occurs among populations where pregnant women deliver at home without a trained birth attendant and far from any health facilities, according to Dr. Francois Gasse, Head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Programme. "In Afghanistan only 5 per cent of women deliver in [an] institution with a trained birth attendant," he told a press briefing in Kabul.

"The simple way to eliminate the disease is to immunize the mother," he explained, noting that this practice "protects the mother against tetanus and the newborn through the transfer of antibodies during the pregnancy."

Over the next week the campaign will target 740,000 women in four Afghan cities before moving to rural areas. "The preliminary estimates show that we need to target 4 million women over the next three years," Dr. Gasse said. "The progress in Afghanistan against this disease is also part of the global progress in this global initiative."

The effort, led by the Afghan Government, is being carried out by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) with support from partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ronald McDonald Foundation.