Tetanus Eradicated in India
India has eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) as a threat to public health, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the Call to Action 2015 Summit on Aug. 27. The announcement comes ahead of the nation’s goal of December.

Tetanus regularly targets newborns and mothers, usually resulting from births taking place in unsanitary conditions or dirty blades being used to cut umbilical cords.

The eradication of MNT comes 15 years after the creation of a campaign by UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA. The organizations launched the Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination Initiative in 1999 with the goal of abolishing MNT as a global health problem.

The initiative defines the elimination of MNT as a global health problem as every district having less than one case of neonatal tetanus per 1,000 live births. When that is accomplished, maternal tetanus is deemed eliminated as well.

At the time the initiative was created, there were an estimated 800,000 newborn deaths a year globally as a result of tetanus, according to WHO. That number is now less than 50,000.

Along with the initiative, the Indian government took its own steps to help eradicate the disease, which is estimated to have killed 160,000 children in the country in 1988.

In Dec. 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India launched Mission Indradhanush, a project aiming to increase the percentage of children completely vaccinated from 65 to at least 90 percent.

In addition to tetanus, immunizations provided by Mission Indradhanush help protect children against tuberculosis, polio, measles, hepatitis B, diphtheria and pertussis, and are free due to India’s Universal Immunization Programme.

In an effort to have more births occur in medical facilities, the Indian government developed a program in which women are paid up to $21 if they go to a clinic or hospital to give birth.

Health workers are also paid to make sure women in labor go to a medical facility. Dubbed “lady health workers,” they are paid up to $9 per mother and receive full payment only if they visit each baby at home and administer TB shots.

Even with these incentives, some women still insist on giving birth at home, as doing so is a local tradition in India. To ensure sanitary conditions, the government will send these women kits containing antibacterial soap, a clean plastic sheet, and a sterile scalpel and plastic clamp to be used on the umbilical cord.

While India has eliminated MNT, the infection is still considered a public health problem in 22 out of the 59 countries originally identified by the U.N. initiative.

Matt Wotus

Sources: National Health Portal of India, Quartz, The New York Times, UNICEF, WHO
Photo: Google Images

Childbirth can present risks anywhere in the world. However, in developing countries, giving birth can often be lethal for both mother and child. The most common causes of infant mortality include infections, premature birth, or birth asphyxia, while maternal deaths are usually the result of severe bleeding or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Effective care before, during, and after childbirth is necessary to treat such complications, but many areas lack the basic resources to provide such care.

In 2008, Dr. Laura Satchel traveled to Nigeria to research possible methods of lowering the country’s maternal death rate, which currently stands at 630 deaths per 100,000 births. Nigeria also has the 10th highest infant mortality rate in the world, with 74.09 deaths per 1,000 births. While working in state hospitals, Satchel realized that many of these deaths were not simply due to illness, but unreliable electricity interfering with the doctors’ ability to treat their patients. Nighttime deliveries were often illuminated only by candlelight, cesarean sections were frequently cancelled or conducted by flashlight, and patients were forced to wait days for life-saving procedures that could not be performed without electricity. This resulted in many deaths from treatable conditions.

Satchel’s goal was to come up with an affordable solution. She contacted her husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator in Berkeley, California. Aronson began designing an off-grid solar electric system, specifically intended for use in maternity wards and labor rooms. This resulted in the development of the Solar Suitcase.

The Solar Suitcase is a bright yellow pack containing high efficiency LED medical lighting, a universal cell phone charger, a battery charger, and outlets for 12V DC devices. The maternity kit also includes a fetal Doppler. The suitcase is designed to last between 10 and 20 years, only requiring a battery change every two years. When Nigerian health clinics began receiving the suitcases, doctors were immediately able to charge headlamps and walkie-talkies while they waited for larger solar installations at their facilities.

In 2009, Satchel and Aronson founded the non-profit organization We Care Solar, aiming to improve the design of the Solar Suitcase and distribute them to more clinics in need. In 2014 alone, the suitcases are estimated to have served 256,800 mothers. As of November 2014, approximately 900 suitcases had been distributed to 25 countries worldwide, from Sierra Leone to Malawi.

Although the suitcases are primarily used in maternal health clinics, they have also saved lives in the wake of natural disasters. We Care Solar sent the device to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake at the request of medical relief teams.

Currently, the organization is in the process of sending 100 suitcases to Nepal, where thousands of pregnant women are in need of medical care following the recent string of earthquakes. In the coming months, We Care Solar plans on expanding its programs in Ethiopia, Tanzania and the Philippines. In a world where mothers and newborns die each day from preventable causes, devices like the Solar Suitcase provide doctors with the tools they need to give women and their children a chance at life.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: CIA 1, CIA 2, Huffington Post, Issuu, We Care Solar, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: Flickr

Sierra Leone, a small country on the West African coast, gained independence from Britain in 1961. Ranked as the least developed country in the world in 2007, poverty and maternal mortality are some of the main problems that Sierra Leone faces today.

As of 2010, Sierra Leone had a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 857 per 100,000 live births, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women to give birth. This high maternal mortality rate was mainly due to hemorrhages, a cause of 26 percent of maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Since Sierra Leone only collects annually one-forth of the blood it needs for transfusions, hemorrhages are a major danger during childbirth. Other contributors to the high MMR are obstructed labor, anemia and toxemia during pregnancy.

Approximately 73 percent of births in Sierra Leone occur in rural areas, where access to health care during pregnancy is normally limited and maternal healthcare does not have as many beneficial outcomes compared to healthcare in urban areas. Many women who need cesarean sections do not receive them, due to the fact that even if a birth attendant is present, many birth attendants are actually aides who do not have the qualifications to perform a cesarean section or to do other tasks that are necessary to help the mothers survive.

Maternal mortality is also prevalent because of a lack of sanitation. Traditional practices also play a cause, since many communities choose home-births instead of modern health care facilities.

Another cause of maternal mortality in Sierra Leone is the high rate of adolescent marriages. Forty-four percent of girls in Sierra Leone marry before they reach the age of 18. Adolescents are more likely to suffer during pregnancy and childbirth, as their bodies are normally not developed enough to carry a baby and deliver safely.

Contraceptive use is also not widespread in Sierra Leone, contributing to Sierra Leone’s high MMR. Only about 7 percent of women use contraceptives, leading to a high fertility rate of 5 children per woman. This contributes to more children and more pregnancy related complications.

In 2010, in order to reduce the MMR and the high rate of children’s deaths in Sierra Leone—almost one-third of children died before they reached their fifth birthday as of 2007—the government of Sierra Leone implemented a policy that would provide free healthcare for pregnant and lactating women and for children under the age of five. This policy led to increased amounts of antenatal care visits immediately after it was introduced, but antenatal care visits decreased once again a few months later, and the policy was not as impactful as hoped.

Therefore, despite the 2010 healthcare act, Sierra Leone is still facing high rates of maternal mortality and a high rate of deaths among children under 5. However, there is hope. Thanks to a now thriving mining industry and a GDP that is growing, Sierra Leone’s economy is looking up. Hopefully, these economic benefits can be invested in the healthcare industry and can help contribute to the supplies and care that pregnant women and their children need.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: The Borgen Project 1, The Borgen Project 2, Amnesty International, UNFPA, WHO 1, WHO 2, The Guardian, ICRW
Photo: Flickr

As the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals quickly approaches, the UN is encouraging governments around the world to intensify their efforts on the goals that have seen little or no progress since 2000. The main goals that still require significant attention are reducing maternal and child deaths and increasing access to improved sanitation facilities.

There have been several successes in these areas so far. In the past 20 years, the number of children dying before the age of five has dropped by nearly 50 percent. The global maternal mortality ratio has dropped by about 45 percent. It is estimated that 3.3 million deaths due to malaria have been prevented. Additionally, the goal of improving access to safe water globally has been met.

The 2014 report put out by the UN, which is based on data from 2010 to 2014, claims that many other goals are still attainable if current trends and efforts continue.

However, there are some goals that do not seem feasible any longer. Only half of pregnant women in developing countries are getting the appropriate number of prenatal checkups. Diarrhea and pneumonia are still prevalent in many countries and are the main causes of death in children under five. In the past four years, 162 million children were not receiving proper nutrition. Finally, sanitation facilities are not as available as they should be, even in middle-income countries; more than one billion people are still required to resort to open defecation.

Andy Haines, a public health expert and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom, said that the results of these goals are a “mixed picture of major advances towards some goals and worrying shortfalls in progress in the case of others.”

The Millennium Development Goals that are furthest from completion are the ones relating to women: gender equality and reducing maternal and child deaths. Last year, UNICEF claimed that at the current rate, the goal of reducing maternal and child deaths by two-thirds will not be achieved until 2028.

Seven out of the nine regions throughout the world that are participating in the MDG have not reached the goal of reducing maternal and child deaths. Three of them, Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, are not expected to achieve this particular goal, and others may fall short as 2015 approaches.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recognizes the progress made thus far, but also the need for continued efforts. He said, “The concerted efforts of national governments, the international community, civil society and the private sector have helped expand hope and opportunity for people around the world. But more needs to be done to accelerate progress. We need bolder and focused action where significant gaps and disparities exist.”

By learning from the flaws of the Millennium Development Goals, the UN and fellow organizations have already begun work on the next set of goals called the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals will incorporate a wider span of topics that were not in the MDG, such as economic and environmental issues.

– Hannah Cleveland 

Sources: The Guardian, Science Development Network
Photo: Unicef


Global Health Fact: 7 million children under 5 years of age die every year

One of the main culprits is malnutrition. When a child’s body becomes malnourished it causes the immune system to become weak. A weak immune system is not a good thing. Especially for children born in developing countries faced with poverty. The immune system cannot fend off the numerous diseases these children face, Pneumonia, Malaria, diarrhea, are just a few of the disease to combat.

Malnutrition occurs when children are deprived of their very basic nutritional needs. Calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats are all essential to a growing body. Food scarcity and poverty is the vital reason these children die every year. Depravation of these basic needs equals malnourishment.

Children who are born premature are at more risk of dying because they were malnourished in the womb. This means they will be born with a weak immune system and possibly become exposed to a deadly disease they cannot fight.

Carolyn Miles, President of Save the Children, stated, “Malnutrition is a largely hidden crisis, but it afflicts one in four children around the world. It wreaks lifelong damage and it is a major killer of children. Every hour of everyday, 300 children die because of malnutrition.”

Here’s a story of a baby girl from Kenya named Umi

This little girl was found at three months old extremely malnourished and on the brink of death.  Umi was quickly taken to the closest hospital for medical treatment and eventually recovered.

Months had passed and Umi continued to be nursed back to health. She was recovering from her brush with death and was a happy, healthy, baby for once. She turned two years old and was thriving as best she could.

However, because of her struggling times with malnutrition as an infant, Umi’s immune system never fully recovered and was not prepared to tackle what was waiting for her. The two year old caught pneumonia and diarrhea, the most common killers among children in developing countries. Tragically Umi died.

Umi died — to put it simply — because of poverty. If it wasn’t for her exposure to malnourishment as an infant she might be with the world today. Her fragile immune system might have been able to fight those horrible illnesses. In addition to these factors Umi did not live close enough to medical help. Her family lived in rural Africa without the ability to travel far. This all stems from poverty.

All of these things together stacked the odds against this child to ever survive.

Many children die every year in developing countries because of these reasons.  Mothers and babies need to remain top priority for organizations fighting to end these preventable deaths. If solutions to these problems can be made quickly then another child like Umi may be able to survive.

Amy Robinson

Sources: World Hunger, The Guardian, YouTube, Save the Children
Photo: OMI USA