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