UNICEF announces dramatic milestone in newborn survival

Maternal neonatal tetanus, which kills a baby every 9 minutes, eliminated in half of high-risk countries

May 15, 2013, 10:19 ET from U.S. Fund for UNICEF

NEW YORK, May 15, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Tetanus, one of the most deadly diseases a mother and her newborn can face, has been eliminated in more than half of affected countries targeted by UNICEF just 13 years ago. The milestone was announced today at the annual meeting of the Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Initiative at UNICEF headquarters.

Tetanus kills one newborn baby every nine minutes and almost all of these babies are born in poor families living in the most disadvantaged areas and communities.

"As someone who has witnessed firsthand the suffering and death of a newborn from this horrific disease, I can't overstate the importance of this moment," said Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. "Since the U.S. Fund for UNICEF instigated this campaign back in 1998, it has always been about reaching the world's poorest, most difficult to reach women and children."

The disease, easily preventable with a vaccine administered to women of child-bearing age, is transmitted when babies are born in unhygienic conditions, and non-sterile materials are used to cut the umbilical cord, or are applied to the umbilical bump. At that point, the mother's life is also in danger. With at least three protective doses that cost about US$2, the mother and her future newborns are protected for 5 to 10 years.

Since 1999, more than 118 million women have been vaccinated against tetanus. Many of these women received their tetanus vaccine as part of an integrated campaign, originated by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which included other life-saving interventions for children – such as immunization against measles, Vitamin A supplements, deworming tablets and information on umbilical cord care.

Tetanus was identified as one of the lead killers of children in the early 1990s, and at the time, polio and other preventable diseases were receiving the vast share of funding and donor interest. Recognizing the potential to eliminate a disease referenced in the Bible as the "seven-day death," the U.S. Fund for UNICEF began approaching potential funding partners.  The program received its first substantial donation from the recently formed Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999. Gates' $26 million donation was its first large-scale grant.

The Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Initiative is a model of how partners can work together to achieve results. In 2000, one year after the initiative began, it was estimated that more than 200,000 deaths of newborns occurred annually from tetanus. By 2010, this number had dropped to an estimated 58,000 annually.

Despite the progress, more than 28 priority countries have still not reached the elimination goal. Key challenges include a lack of access to communities because of insecurity, cultural barriers, competing priorities, sustaining elimination after validation and inadequate funding.

The MNT Elimination Initiative is an international private-public partnership that includes National Governments, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, GAVI, USAID/Immunization Basics, CDC, UNICEF National Committees, the Government of Japan, Save the Children, PATH, RMHC, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Kiwanis International, Pampers – a division of Procter & Gamble, and BD.

The countries that have eliminated MNT are: Bangladesh; Benin; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; China; Comoros; Congo (Republic of); Cote d' Ivoire; Egypt; Eritrea; Ghana; Guinea Bissau; Iraq; Liberia; Malawi; Mozambique; Myanmar; Namibia; Nepal;  Rwanda; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Timor Leste; Turkey; Togo; Uganda; Vietnam; Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The countries that are still working toward elimination include Afghanistan; Angola; Cambodia; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo DR; Equatorial Guinea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Guinea; Haiti; India; Indonesia; Kenya; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Madagascar; Mali; Mauritania; Niger; Nigeria; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Sierra Leone; Somalia; Sudan; South Sudan; and Yemen.


The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to save and improve children's lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood.