Philippines declared free of maternal and neonatal tetanus – DOH

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines finally achieved maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination (MNTE) status, said Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday, November 29.

The country's MNTE status was declared through a joint mission by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

"The health department faced numerous challenges to reach even isolated and conflict-affected communities, teaching the importance of clean birth deliveries attended by a medical professional, and convincing pregnant and reproductive age women to get vaccinated with tetanus-toxoid containing vaccine," said Duque.

"Thanks to our health workers and our partners UNICEF and WHO, achieving less than one NT case per 1,000 live births per province or city is a big stride towards realization of universal health care, especially for the mothers and newborns who come from poor communities," he added.

MNTE status is achieved when there is less than one case of neonatal tetanus per 1,000 live births in every region. Prior to the declaration, the Philippines was one of the last 16 countries in the world that had not yet eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus. (READ: The challenges of maternal health in PH

According to the DOH, the disease is one of the most common life-threatening consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices. 

Maternal and neonatal tetanus also indicates poor access to immunization and other maternal, newborn, and child health services. 

The WHO estimated that some 34,000 newborns were killed by the disease in 2015 alone. Deaths can be prevented, however, through hygienic practices in delivery and cord care as well as giving mothers and children vaccines.

The Philippines was assisted by UNICEF and the WHO to achieve its MNTE status. From the 1990s, pregnant women were given tetanus vaccines. The DOH also partnered with the international organizations to improve coverage of antenatal care and clean deliveries. 

Tetanus diphtheria immunization campaigns were also conducted for around 300,000 women aged 15 to 40 years old in select high-risk areas in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from 2016 to early 2017. 

"WHO recognizes the Philippine government for its commitment to the global public health goal of MNTE. This achievement is a testament to the successful strides taken towards health equity, especially in protecting the hardest to reach and the most vulnerable from vaccine-preventable diseases like tetanus," said WHO representative to the Philippines Dr Gundo Aurel Weiler. 

"WHO remains committed in supporting the Philippines, especially with the challenge of sustaining measures which helped the country achieve MNTE," he added. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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