Tetanus elimination brings cheer, but immunization on
Public health in India got a big boost when the World Health Organisation recently deemed that maternal and neonatal tetanus had been eliminated in 11 countries, including India.
The tireless efforts of millions of health workers, who overcame huge challenges to reach out to vulnerable communities resulted in elimination of tetanus cases, it said.
Tetanus cases were seen earlier among newborns, and the cause was mainly unhealthy practices in rural areas. "There were unhygienic practices like application of cow dung and mud to the umbilical cord of the newborn when the mother delivered the baby at home. Due to institutional deliveries, there are no such cases in urban areas. Childhood immunization has also increased dramatically," says Dr Shubha Rama Rao, unit chief, gynaecology department, Martha's Hospital.
A WHO officer in Karnataka confirmed that the move doesn't mean that the tetanus immunization programme would be discontinued. "We have reached a major milestone by eliminating tetanus from India. Elimination means there is less than 1 per cent tetanus cases per 1,000 live births in all districts. It means that the tetanus infection is no more a matter of public health concern in India and this has been validated by WHO," said Dr Ashish Satapathy, regional team leader for Karnataka, WHO.
"It's a moment of pride for us," says Dr Ramachandra Bairy, deputy director, immunization programme, health and family welfare department, Karnataka. "The vaccination programme, however, does not stop. The tetanus-carrying organism is still in the mud, dust and hence vaccination remains essential. Taking two tetanus vaccines during pregnancy is a must to keep the mother and foetus protected from tetanus infection," Dr Bairy adds.
Unlike small pox and polio, tetanus cannot be eradicated as the spores remain in the environment, added Dr Satapathy. "Since there's a risk worldwide, Vaccination for women at child-bearing age, for children during birth and adolescence should be continued through school immunization programmes," the doctor added.
After a baby's birth, tetanus vaccination is given at 6th week, 10th week and 14th week. A booster dose is administered when the baby is one-and-a-half years to two years. This is followed by routine immunization school programme at five-year internals thrice between 5-15 years (during 5th year, 10th year and 15 years).
In Karnataka, 11.5 to 12 lakh pregnant women undergo tetanus vaccination during maternity. Over 11.5 lakh children are born every year in Karnataka and undergo neonatal tetanus vaccination.