Afghanistan launches immunization campaign to save women and their new-borns

News and Press Release
Originally published
President Pledges Full Support to Ensure Success
KABUL/NEW YORK, 31 January 2003 - UNICEF today announced a week-long campaign to immunise thousands of Afghan women against tetanus as part of a global campaign to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus by 2005. Running from February 2-8, health workers and volunteers aim to reach some 740,000 Afghan women aged 15 to 45.

The campaign has been launched with the enthusiastic backing of President Hamid Karzai. In a televised address he appealed to women to ensure that they receive the vaccination.

"Protecting Afghan women against maternal tetanus is one of the simplest but most effective ways of making inroads into the country's horrific maternal mortality rate - currently one of the highest in the world," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "Together with other basic interventions in women's health, the tetanus toxoid (TT) vaccine has the potential to save the lives of thousands of Afghanistan's women and their new-born children.'

A recent study by UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control and Surveillance revealed that almost half of all deaths among Afghan women aged between 15-49 are a direct result of pregnancy and childbirth. The study found that about 1,600 women die for every 100,000 live births in Afghanistan. In remote Badakhshan Province, which recorded the highest Maternal Mortality Ratio to be documented anywhere in the world, it was found that 26 per cent of neonatal deaths are due to neonatal tetanus.

This week's campaign breaks new ground in the administering of the TT vaccine in Afghanistan. For the first time in the country, vaccinators will be using the new Uniject device. This pre-filled needle and syringe can be administered by non-medical personnel, such as traditional midwives, thus enhancing the country's ability to reach women in remote communities who do not have access to health centres and clinics. Previously the vaccine had to be administered only by trained health personnel.

During the week-long campaign -- the first of three to be held in 2003 -- over 1,000 vaccination teams will fan out across the cities of Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar. The campaign is conducted by the Ministry of Health and jointly supported by UNICEF and WHO, with active support from NGO partners. The Japanese Government is contributing TT vaccines, AD syringes and safety boxes for Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar.

Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus

Neonatal tetanus is a deadly disease and remains a major killer of infants in the developing world. Up to seventy percent of all babies that develop the disease die in their first month of life. It currently accounts for 8 per cent of all neonatal deaths -- some 200,000 infants every year globally. Neonatal tetanus occurs as a result of unhygienic birth practices, leading to contamination of the umbilical cord with tetanus spores when it is being cut or dressed after delivery.

Globally, tetanus is responsible for 5 per cent of all maternal deaths. In 2001 alone, it killed 30,000 women. It is caused by contamination from tetanus spores through puncture wounds, and is linked to unsafe and unhygienic deliveries. These deaths can be avoided if women at risk are protected with tetanus toxoid vaccine and hygienic birth practices are observed during labour and delivery.

UNICEF is working in partnership with WHO, UNFPA, PATH, Basics and Save the Children to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus by 2005. So far the MNTE Initiative has received major donations from the US Fund for UNICEF and other UNICEF National Committees, the Government of Japan, Exxon, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Gates Foundation and Becton Dickenson.

Note to Broadcasters:

Video b-roll documenting measles immunization in Afghanistan is available. Please contact your nearest UNICEF National Committee or Regional Office and ask for Afghanistan Back-to-School and Children's Health (2002) B-roll.

For further information please contact:

Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF Media,
New York (1-212) 326 7516,

Chulho Hyun, UNICEF Media,
Kabul Mobile: +93 702 78493 (International), 0702 78493 (Local),