Amid the controversy and cacophony surrounding the United Nations General Assembly meeting last week came very good news indeed: Infant and maternal tetanus has been officially eliminated in the Americas! The announcement from the Pan American Health Organization highlighted the fact that maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) is the sixth vaccine-preventable disease to be eradicated from the Americas, following smallpox (1971), polio (1994), rubella (German measles) and congenital rubella (2015), and measles (2016) — all thanks to effective national vaccine programs:

“The elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus is proof again that vaccines work to save the lives of countless mothers and babies,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, PAHO’s Dominica-born director.

“Let us continue to protect the people of our region by investing in strong national immunization programs that are capable of vaccinating all individuals and quickly identifying vaccine-preventable diseases.”


Of course, the tetanus bacterium that causes the disease, Clostridium tetani, can never be eradicated itself, since it continues to exist everywhere in the environment — in the soil and in animal feces. But eradication of the disease — defined as fewer than 1 case per 1,000 people — is worthy of celebration, considering the global scourge it once was, not too long ago:

Before widespread modern vaccination against MNT began in the 1970s, PAHO said neonatal tetanus was responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 newborns every year in the Americas – a number considered low by experts, due to severe underreporting of cases.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), neonatal tetanus killed about 34,000 newborn children in 2015, a 96 percent reduction from 1988, when an estimated 787,000 newborn babies died of tetanus within their first month of life.


In other good news coming out of the U.N. meeting last week, Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports that the President’s Malaria Initiative (established by President George W. Bush) got a boost from Congress:

Also this week, the President’s Malaria Initiative said it would expand its work to new countries in West and Central Africa, protecting 90 million more people.

The initiative, founded in 2005 as part of the United States Agency for International Development, has been a major force in driving down worldwide malaria deaths by about 40 percent in the past decade. The disease most often kills young children and pregnant women.


And another Bush-era project — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — also received a boost from cooperative stakeholders:

A combination of aid agencies, drug companies and governments also announced that a new three-in-one antiretroviral cocktail to treat H.I.V. would soon be available to 92 countries, including virtually all of Africa, for about $75 a year…


McNeil reminds us of the magnitude of the continuing global AIDS epidemic, for which there still is no vaccine:

Almost 37 million people in the world have H.I.V., according to Unaids, the U.N.’s AIDS-fighting agency, but fewer than 20 million are now on antiretroviral medicine, which not only saves their lives but prevents them from passing on the disease.



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