Untreated, Tetanus kills.
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It mostly affects newborns within days of exposure to the bacteria, Clostridium Tetani.
Treatment is a gamble as it doesn’t always translate to survival.
Every year Kenya loses about 370 newborns to neonatal tetanus which translates to a child dying every day.
Globally, the situation is getting better according to WHO which estimates that neonatal tetanus killed about 49,000 newborns in 2013. A drop from 1988 when the number of newborns who lost their lives than were estimated to be 787,000.
It is difficult to eradicate tetanus but there are prevention measures that in place to ensure that it is tamed. Vaccination is key to achieve this goal.
This vaccination is what has taken a political turn with National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga claiming that the tetanus vaccine administered by the government is aimed at sterilising women.
As a thought leader, his assertions have an impact on the health sector and the populace that consumes the services.
Of course, the question then would be what informs these allegations? Is it mere propaganda or does he have substantial evidence to prove his allegations? From what he has presented, his assertions are not substantiated.
Yet, these are not new allegations. In 2014, the Catholic church claimed that the tetanus vaccination had adverse effects on women’s reproductive health.
It was a tense debate especially coming from an influential body as the Catholic church which said it had proof that the tetanus doses administered to Kenyan women were laced with a hormone that inhibited fertility.
The bishops and the Catholic Doctors Association even went ahead and tested the vaccines as four different labs, which, according to a statement that they published then, confirmed the samples were laced with the Beta-hCG hormone.
The Kenyan government questions the methodology used to ascertain the presence of the Beta-hCG hormone.
Following the allegations, the ministry of health says that there were consultations held and joint committees formed that included the Ministry of Health and Catholic Health Commission (KCCB).
There was an agreement between the two bodies that, ‘’routine and periodic monitoring of vaccines brought into the country, enhanced surveillance by healthcare providers and the public, and that routine tetanus immunisation program in the country is safe.’’
According to a statement by the ministry, ‘the joint committee observed that mass immunisation campaigns remain a useful, high impact public health intervention, but quality assurance mechanism should be applied at all times.’
They went ahead to rubber-stamp the tetanus toxoid vaccine as clean, paving the way for campaigns on vaccination in 2016/2017.
With the fresh allegations, Unicef and WHO send a statement stating among other things, ”These grave allegations are not backed up by evidence, and risk negatively impacting national immunisation programmes for children and women”
Of concern is that Kenya is one of the 25 countries where tetanus is still a public health problem that continues to take lives of newborns every year according to Unicef.
The fact that most of those affected by tetanus in Kenya are newborns, vaccination has targeted girls and women between the aged of 15-49 years.
But with Raila Odinga’s assertion, the debate brings to the fore a debate that has been around for as of as long as vaccination has existed.
The combination of ‘science’ and ‘secrecy’ in these allegations continues to provide healthy fodder for conspiracy theories that, if unchecked, can have a detrimental impact on vulnerable communities.
It is however not enough to just dismiss these allegations. Especially because there is a precedence in other countries where mass sterilisation has been administered against the will of individuals.
In the US, 33 states had forced sterilization programs with California taking a sad lead after targeting some 20,000 people.
There is no single prescription as to the manner in which these fears can be allayed other than staying on the path of truth and responsible organisations ensuring that transparency prevails at all cost.