Every pregnant woman looks forward to having a healthy baby. The feeling is most of the time so intense that you can do almost anything and everything because your eye is either on a healthy baby or a healthy baby!
Some injections that pregnant women receive cause a lot of discomfort. Personally, the thought of tetanus injection gave me goose pimples- the injection always left me with a fever, not mentioning the soreness and swelling at the injection site – I don’t know if other women experienced the same considering that our body constitutions are very different. But painful or not painful, my doctor and I still ensured I took the injection. I remember during one of my antenatal visits when I literary asked my doctor not to give me the injection and my soft spoken doctor told me calmly but firmly ‘Lourdes, if it were for you alone, your request could have pass but since an innocent life is involved here and considering the seriousness of not having the injection, I am turning down your request!’
Today we will talk tetanus. The dust has settled now since our own Cardinal Njue uttered the controversial remarks about the tetanus campaign that the Ministry of Health was administering. Several weeks now since the utterance, I Know we can learn together with sobriety- feelings and emotions aside!
For starters, tetanus is a killer disease caused by a toxin (poison) produced by a bacteria called clostridium tetani which is found worldwide in soil, dust, feacal waste and manure. It is characterized by painful muscle stiffness and results in death if not timely and appropriately treated. Several myths have been said about tetanus the most absurd being that tetanus is caused by curses, witchcraft, or genetically inherited. The fact is, tetanus is caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria when they enter the body through a wound and it can be prevented through vaccination.
Facts on file indicate that annually, 110,000 deaths occur as a result of tetanus infection on children. Guys, maternal and newborn deaths are still on the rise. The most recent estimates set the maternal mortality rate at 488 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to The World Bank, Infant mortality rate in the year 2009-2013 was at 49 per 1000 live births, too high compared to countries like Norway, Singapore, Sweden and Finland that estimates only 2 deaths per 1000 live births within the same period. That is why I the ‘self-appointed-maternal-health-advocate as well as many of us was not only shocked but irked that the head of the Catholic Church in the country advised against giving this important dose to pregnant women.
The over 200 million campaign by the Ministry of Health with WHO and UNICEF was conducted from 21st to 27th March 2014 free to all women of childbearing age between 14 and 49 years old.
As reported on Citizen TV ,Cardinal Njue alleged that the vaccination was aimed at inducing deliberate family planning to fertile women in order to manage population and control the country’s birthrate which is among the highest in the world.
Dear Cardinal, I am very Catholic in fact, I was named after Lourdes, the holy place in France where thousands of Catholic pilgrims go every year for prayers and world over, the Catholic church celebrates the feast of our Lady of Lourdes every 11th February. I respect for authority but baba, I do not agree with you on this one because first, I know how important the vaccine is and second, I have experienced the pains and agony of losing a baby- it hurts even to breath!
My Cardinal termed the exercise ‘fishy’ because it targets only ‘women and girls’. His concerns may be valid as to why the campaign left out young girls, boys and men even if they are all prone to tetanus. I do not hold brief for the Ministry of Health, WHO or UNICEF but I will explain the rationale behind targeting women and not men; this is because maternal and neonatal tetanus, a deadly disease that can occur as a result of unclean baby deliveries or abortions and unhygienic umbilical cord practices are common fatal consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices such as applying cow dung, soil, ashes to the wound and cutting the cord with unclean instruments e.g. dirty razor blades and knives. Vaccinating women therefore protects them and their babies from tetanus. When mothers are vaccinated they pass on this immunity to their babies and thus protect the babies from tetanus. After all, any woman’s wish is to see her baby healthy.
Globally, in order to eliminate tetanus the following strategies are used:
- Routine vaccination of women during ante-natal clinic visits
- Vaccination of babies
- Supplemental immunizations that target girls and women of child-bearing age
- Promotion of hygienic and safe deliveries
In newborn, tetanus can occur from 3 days up to 28 days after birth. The symptoms include: the baby suddenly stopping suckling; baby’s body becomes stiff and irritable; the stiffness can be so strong that it may break the baby’s spine and sadly, death follows in most cases- is it worth it really?
For those who honored the campaign and got vaccinated, I say well done because you have successfully activated your baby’s immune system! Besides, the vaccine will help reduce tetanus infection during pregnancy. For those who did not, I am sensitive enough to respect your life choices.