Newborn deaths from tetanus continue to fall

Jennifer Morlan | Jun 18, 2020

MNT 2020 report web

The number of babies needlessly dying from neonatal tetanus continues to fall, thanks, in part, to the commitment of Kiwanis International. 

The world has seen an 85% reduction in newborn deaths from tetanus during the past 18 years, including a 57% drop since Kiwanis joined UNICEF in the fight against maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2010, according to a new report by the World Health Organization. 

A group of scientists, statisticians and experts recently analyzed data that showed an estimated 25,000 babies died of tetanus in 2018, almost 6,000 fewer than reported in 2017. 

The report also showed that the number of newborns dying each day from tetanus decreased from 85 in 2017 to 68 in 2018, the latest year for which data was available. In 2011, 159 babies died every day from tetanus.

“It’s encouraging to see that the work we started with UNICEF a decade ago keeps moving us toward the day when no baby dies of tetanus,” says Stan Soderstrom, executive director of Kiwanis International and the Kiwanis Children’s Fund. “These are more than just numbers — they are lives saved. The Kiwanis family should be proud of its international impact.” 

Kiwanis’ partnership with UNICEF supports health care workers and volunteers who face conflict and other health priorities, such as polio and Ebola, in some of the world’s most forbidding areas. They have vaccinated more than 161 million women of childbearing age, freeing them from the fear that their babies could die from this excruciating disease.

If a mother has not been vaccinated, neonatal infections can occur when childbirth takes place without proper hygienic care — for example, on a dirt floor or without sterilized tools. Newborns who contract tetanus suffer repeated and painful convulsions and extreme sensitivity to light and touch. Without hospitalization, there is little hope of survival.

But in addition to providing vaccinations, the effort to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) has led to more births being overseen by doctors, nurses or midwives — leading to better outcomes for moms and babies. And Kiwanis’ involvement has motivated other large membership-based organizations to join the fight.

Despite the progress, the global MNT elimination initiative faces numerous challenges. Today, MNT remains a threat in 12 countries — nations where women are poor, have little access to health care or may be in danger from wars or internal conflict. And while immunization plans are in place in most of these countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted vaccination efforts.

But Kiwanis’ life-changing work will continue, says Soderstrom. Kiwanis International continues to raise money to pay for vaccinations, transportation, training, monitoring and supervision — so that mothers give birth in clean, safe environments.

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