Project Eliminate

Kiwanis and other participants walk by a sign symbolizing Yemen, where maternal and neonatal tetanus has been eliminated, outside the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center. The event highlights countries where maternal and neonatal tetanus has been eliminated.

Kiwanis from two states took time Friday during their convention to highlight where their efforts have been successful in eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus.

The Eliminate Project Walk, part of Kiwanis International’s joint project with UNICEF, took place Friday afternoon outside the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center, where members of the Texas-Oklahoma District Kiwanis have been meeting for their district convention, which concluded Sunday.

Friday’s walk highlighted the countries where maternal and neonatal tetanus has been eliminated, according to convention chairman Joe Holland. As of July, maternal and neonatal tetanus has been eliminated in 46 of the 59 countries where the initiative has been undertaken, Holland said.

Maternal and neonatal tetanus is a common consequence of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices that often leave mothers and their newborns at risk of a variety of life-threatening infections, according to the World Health Organization.

Since 2010, Kiwanis International has pledged $110 million to UNICEF, according to Francine Eikner, Texas-Oklahoma district coordinator for the Eliminate Project. The partnership, Eikner said, is in an effort to eliminate the disease by supplying vaccines to women in countries where the disease still exists.

A country is deemed to have “eliminated” the disease when fewer than 1 in 1,000 births are affected by tetanus, Eikner said. Many maternal and neonatal tetanus cases stem from unsanitary birthing conditions because of the tetanus spores that can be found in the soil, she said.

“When these women have babies in their huts or on a dirt floor, or just anywhere that’s not clean or sanitary, then there’s the chance that baby will be exposed — particularly during the cutting of the umbilical cord — to those tetanus spores that are in the dirt,” Eikner said.

For newborns who are exposed to tetanus, Eikner said, it can often lead to a “seven-day death,” where a child begins to experience seizures and a painful sensitivity to light that is often followed by death. However, as countries expand access to vaccines and education on the matter improves, she said, more people are able to access the resources that are able to prevent or mitigate the occurrence of tetanus.

Kiwanis Club of McKinney President Julie Lichter, whose organization pledged $64,000 to the Eliminate Project over a five-year period, said she felt sad after viewing the countries that had not yet eliminated the disease and acknowledged that it’s important for their organization to continue its efforts.

“It made me sad to see that some of these countries have not welcomed this opportunity to better the health of not only their mothers, but also their infants and future generations,” Lichter said. “But the only thing we can do year after year is make sure that we are sustaining the future for these countries with an environment that is healthy [for mothers and infants].”

As Friday’s event concluded, Holland said he was thankful for the support and efforts of members who took part. Through the help of their district members and the Kiwanis organization as a whole, he said, maternal and neonatal tetanus can be eliminated “for good.”

RYAN HIGGS can be reached via Twitter at @HiggsUNT.

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