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Neonatal tetanus elimination in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

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Neonatal tetanus (NNT) is a serious but preventable disease, and the World Health Organization (WHO) wants to eliminate NNT globally by reducing its incidence to <1 case per 1000 live births. South Africa adopted this goal in 1995, but Mpumalanga, a rural province, has consistently reported cases of NNT despite an appropriate vaccination strategy to eliminate the disease. The aim of the study was to investigate the completeness of the passive notification system and to explore reasons for ongoing NNT cases despite implementation of the provincial vaccination strategy. We reviewed all hospital admissions in the province between 1996 and 2000 meeting the case definition for NNT and interviewed mothers of the NNT cases reported in 2000. We identified 26 NNT cases, of which only 14 (54%) were reported through the routine notification system. Most cases occurred as a result of the cultural practice of applying cow dung or rat faeces to the umbilical stump in the neonatal period. Although all districts met the WHO elimination target during the review period, there is scope to prevent unnecessary NNT deaths through culturally acceptable public awareness campaigns aimed at changing harmful practices, and encouraging hygienic births and postnatal cord care.
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Keywords: South Africa; elimination; hospital review; neonatal tetanus

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: National TB Control Programme, National Department of Health, Pretoria, South Africa, 2: Communicable Disease Control, Department of Health, Mpumalanga, South Africa, 3: Department of Family Medicine & Primary Health Care, Medical University of Southern Africa, South Africa, 4: School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

Publication date: July 1, 2002

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