Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus elimination in India will prevent thousands of deaths

Government of Canada, Kiwanis and UNICEF Canada partnering to eliminate this deadly disease in five countries

NEW DELHI, Aug. 27, 2015 /CNW/ - The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced today during the Call to Action 2015 Summit that Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) has been eliminated in India. This landmark achievement will save the lives of countless mothers and their newborns.

India is one of the most populous countries in the world, with 327 million women of childbearing age and 26 million children born every year. In 1988, tetanus killed as many as 160,000 young children in India. The drop ever since has been extraordinary. The elimination of MNT as a public health problem means that the annual rate is less than one per 1000 live births.  

"India has shown strong leadership in overcoming two major threats to the prosperity and future of the nation: polio and now maternal and neonatal tetanus," said Louis Arsenault, UNICEF Representative. "India's remarkable achievement in eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus shows that by making a strong commitment to investing in public health their youngest citizens and mothers will enjoy their right to health, thereby making us all stronger."

How MNT was eliminated in India
In contrast to other countries, India did not carry out massive tetanus vaccination campaigns. The Government, instead, applied a mix of strategies which included a state-by-state and system approach starting in 2003 in Andhra Pradesh, with the technical support of UNICEF, WHO and other stakeholders.

Successful measures included providing cash incentives to families for delivering the baby in a health facility, training more skilled birth attendants and strengthening the institutional health delivery systems including the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). In addition, there was a systematic vaccination of pregnant women attending antenatal care with Tetanus Toxoid (TT); and intensive behaviour change communication targeting communities to reduce harmful cord care practices.

These crucial steps have played a key role in eliminating the disease, contributing significantly to progress in the effort to save the lives of children under the age of five, most of whom die from preventable causes.

"Recent initiatives to strengthen the health systems and improve access to immunization services such as Mission Indradhanush will no doubt contribute to the country's ability to sustain this achievement," explained Mr. Arsenault.

Canadian efforts to eliminate MNT in five countries
In February the Canadian government announced a funding commitment towards eliminating MNT—matching every dollar raised by UNICEF Canada and Kiwanis Canada up to $2.5 million, making Canada the largest government donor to The Eliminate Project, a UNICEF-Kiwanis initiative to wipe this deadly disease off the map.

This $5 million partnership aims to eliminate this deadly disease in Chad, Kenya and South Sudan and make great strides in Pakistan and Sudan towards elimination. With this project, which is taking place over the next two years, more than 3.4 million women of reproductive age will be reached with vaccinations needed to provide immunity and save their babies.

Babies endure excruciating death when infected with tetanus
Maternal and neonatal tetanus is a disease that strikes down the poorest and most vulnerable, especially singling out women and their newborns living in areas with limited access to health services and poor hygiene. The disease, which is often transmitted when the umbilical cord is cut under unsanitary conditions, is characterized by wrenching muscle spasms, initially in the jaw. In remote rural areas of developing countries, with limited or no access to treatment facilities, almost all newborns infected with tetanus die. 

Twenty-two countries left to eliminate MNT
With India's announcement, the list of validated countries grows to 37, but there are 22 countries that still must eliminate this disease, including:  Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia (partial), Haiti, Indonesia (partial), Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines (partial), Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen.

Eliminating MNT is simple and inexpensive

  • It costs US$1.80 to vaccinate each woman of reproductive age. This includes the three vaccines needed for each woman, syringes and safe storage and transportation of vaccines. It also includes training for health workers and community education.
  • It costs an estimated US$427 to US$780 to provide health services to each baby once infected.

About the Maternal Neonatal Elimination Initiative
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 and Melinda Gates Foundation, Kiwanas International, Pampers – a division of Proctor and Gamble, and BD.

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit


For further information: To arrange interviews or for more information please contact: Tiffany Baggetta, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8892, 647-308-4806 (mobile),


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