In January 2017, SmartParenting.com.phreported that the Philippines still faced the threat of maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), a bacterial disease that is fatal to fetuses and newborns. A pregnant woman who contracts the disease can transfer the infection to her unborn baby, causing fetal death.
Tetanus is acquired by exposure to the spores of the bacteria Clostridium tetani, commonly found in dirt. In the Philippines, pregnant women who give birth outside of hospitals and health facilities are the ones who are most at risk. And an infected newborn can die within a few days, with 70 to 100% of deaths occurring between three days and 28 days after birth, according to UNICEF.
According to the Department of Health (DOH), the disease is one of the most common life-threatening consequences due to unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices, as reported by Rappler.
This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced through its official Medium page that the country has successfully eliminated MNT. The Philippines achieved an incidence rate of less than one tetanus case per 1,000 live births in every district.
Childbirth has become safer in our country, says WHO. How did it happen? WHO, UNICEF, and other partners worked with the DOH to conduct a successful immunization program to eliminate MNT.
The tetanus vaccine is recommended for pregnant women and given in a three-in-one shot in properly spaced-out doses (it includes immunization for diphtheria and pertussis, which are also potentially life-threatening diseases). The vaccine not only provides the mother protection but her future children as well.
WHO also worked to train midwives, who provide the majority of vaccines, especially in remote areas, to discuss vaccine concerns with patients and educate them on clean cord practices.
By 2015, 16 out of 17 regions in the country had eliminated MNT. The only region that remained was the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARRM) and the organizations aimed to have 80% of pregnant women in the area receive the three doses of the tetanus vaccine.
The organizations launched aggressive immunization campaigns while the government created the Midwives in Every Community in ARMM (MECA) program so midwives could go door-to-door and provide health education in the hard-to-reach communities.
But while the disease has been eliminated, there is still a need to sustain the status. “This is possible through a concerted effort to enhance access to quality antenatal care, skilled attendance at birth and tetanus vaccination for all pregnant women, including those living in the remotest areas of the country,” says Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Philippines representative.
This is good news in light of the ongoing Dengvaxia controversy. People have begun to have misplaced fear about vaccines and public health programs. It should not be the case, and so the the success of the tetanus vaccination is something we should all celebrate.
The tetanus vaccine is included in PhilHealth’s maternity care package. A portion of the P8,000 coverage amount is allotted for prenatal care services, which can be used for immunizations, medicines, lab tests and doctor’s professional fees.
Even women who are not pregnant should also consider getting the vaccine. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III urged “reproductive age women to get vaccinated,” reports GMA News.