United Nations: Lauding India for eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus, a senior UN official has said the country's "landmark achievement" will save the lives of countless mothers and their newborns.
"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," UNICEF Representative Louis Arsenault said.
"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," Arsenault said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced during the 'Call to Action 2015 Summit' that Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) has been eliminated in India.
The UN agency said the "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 agency said the drop ever since has been extraordinary.
The elimination of MNT as a public health problem means that the annual rate is less than 1 per 1000 live births.
In contrast to other countries, India did not carry out massive tetanus vaccination campaigns and 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), the agency said.
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.
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.
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, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan and Yemen.