Health advocates in India are celebrating a major milestone that will save thousands of mothers’ and babies’ lives.
The World Health Organization declared that India has officially eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), a disease that predominantly plagues low-income patients. Just a few decades ago, the country reported about 150,000 cases a year, according to WHO.
The disease is typically transmitted when the umbilical cord is cut in an unsanitary way and nearly all newborns infected with tetanus die, according to UNICEF.
MNT usually occurs in developing countries where patients have limited or no access to proper treatment facilities and presents with severe muscle spasms.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the accomplishment on Thursday at the Call to Action Summit 2015, according to the Times of India. The goal of the two-day advocacy event is to help developing countries reduce maternal and child deaths worldwide.
Unlike other countries that have succeeded in eliminating the disease, India didn’t partake in a massive vaccination effort.
Instead, the government partnered with UNICEF, WHO and other stakeholders to develop effective strategies that would keep MNT at bay.
Among its many initiatives, the country provided cash incentives to families who delivered at a health facility. The country also worked to train more skilled birth attendants, targeted communities to help reduce unhygienic practices and vaccinated mothers, according to UNICEF.
But advocates have been quick to also warn that India can’t fully rest easy just yet.
Unlike polio, tetanus can’t be eradicated since its spores remain “stubbornly present” in the environment, WHO noted.
Tetanus was declared eliminated in India once it was able to reduce MNT to less than one case per 1,000 live births every year.
WHO added that India needs to remain vigilant about improving hygiene practices and vaccinating mothers.
The declaration brings the total number of countries that have eliminated tetanus to 37. Still, the disease remains a risk in 22 countries, including Afghanistan, Kenya and Haiti.