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Viet Nam beats deadly maternal & neonatal tetanus

In UN-backed campaign, Viet Nam beats deadly maternal and neonatal tetanus

Backed by United Nations agencies, Viet Nam has eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus as a public health problem in a victory over a scourge that used to kill some 20,000 Vietnamese babies annually before the age of one month.

“We congratulate the Government of Viet Nam on achieving this critical goal for children and women,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific Anupama Rao Singh said of yesterday’s announcement. “This accomplishment demonstrates that life-saving vaccines can be delivered to even the poorest and most marginalized communities.”

Maternal and neonatal tetanus, often called the “silent killer” because many newborns affected by it die at home in very remote and poor communities where both the births and the deaths go unreported, is preventable through hygienic birth practices and immunization of women of child-bearing age with the tetanus toxoid (TT) vaccine, which confers protection against the disease to newborns.

“These excellent results mark a major achievement by a country that used to have a high incidence of neonatal tetanus,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific Shigeru Omi said. “We are hopeful that several other countries in the region will soon follow Viet Nam's example.”

Five countries in the Western Pacific have yet to reach the elimination goal of one case per 1,000 live births at district level. In the 1980s, in Viet Nam there were about 10 neonatal deaths due to tetanus per 1,000 live births.

Major contributors of financial and technical support to maternal and neonatal elimination efforts in Viet Nam include UNICEF, WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Beckton & Dickinson (a medical technology company), the government of Japan, the Australian Government AusAid agency and the United States Fund for UNICEF.

Maternal and neonatal tetanus kills tens of thousands of newborns each year, mostly in developing countries. In 2000, 58 countries had yet to eliminate it. Viet Nam is the ninth country and first East Asian country within the priority country group that has been assessed and validated as having eliminated these diseases. The other eight are Eritrea, Malawi, Namibia, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo and Zimbabwe.

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