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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Joins UNICEF And BD In Effort To Prevent Newborn Deaths In Developing World

Foundation Awards $26 Million To Eliminate Maternal And Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) by 2005

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guy Taylor
U.S. Committee for UNICEF
Phone: 212.922.2659

NEW YORK -- The U.S. Committee for UNICEF (The United Nations Children's Fund) received today a $26 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The gift will be used in the fight to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), a disease that was responsible in 1998 for more than 300,000 deaths in developing nations. Although tetanus killed just one newborn in the U.S. last year, it is one of the world's most serious diseases that afflicts infants and their mothers.

"Bill and Melinda Gates are dedicated to improving the health of families in the world's poorest countries," said William H. Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus is a dream that's within reach and will save the lives of many newborns and mothers who needlessly die from the preventable disease."

In 1998, approximately 270,000 newborns and 30,000 mothers died from tetanus in the developing world. MNT is a potentially fatal, but entirely preventable disease prevalent where poverty, lack of hygiene and inefficient or no health services exist. By immunizing women with tetanus toxoid vaccine, tetanus can be prevented in both mothers and newborns.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joins BD (Becton Dickinson), the world's leading manufacturer of injection devices, as a major contributor to this effort. The program aims to raise $100 million from a variety of partners to immunize 100 million women by 2005.

UNICEF will use the funds to support country efforts to buy and safely administer tetanus vaccines, promote the use of clean delivery kits and provide health education in 57 developing countries. To date, BD has committed cash and syringes towards this effort and continues to play a significant leadership role in building the MNT partnership.

"We see this as an unprecedented opportunity to expand a partnership that can virtually eliminate a disease around the world," said Clateo Castellini, CEO and chairman of BD. "We're delighted that the Gates Foundation has chosen to join us in this historic fight."

Tetanus is caused by naturally occurring bacteria in the soil that enter a body through open wounds. It is commonly known as the risk we experience when we cut ourselves on a piece of glass or step on a rusty nail, creating the need for a tetanus booster shot to prevent infection. Maternal tetanus occurs as a result of poor hygienic practice at the time of delivery or through gynecological complications. Neonatal tetanus occurs when a woman delivers her baby in unsanitary conditions, often at home with an unskilled birth attendant, and in the course of cutting or caring for the umbilical cord, the baby may be infected.

Without immunization, tetanus acts like a powerful poison, spreading throughout the body causing spasms, stiffness and arching of the spine. Ultimately, breathing becomes difficult, the spasms occur more frequently, and in 70 to 100 percent of the cases, mothers and infants die a tortuous death.

The MNT partnership, which in addition to UNICEF, the U.S. Committee for UNICEF and the Gates Foundation, currently includes BD, the World Health Organization, PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) and United Nations Population Fund. It is leading an effort to accomplish a goal of the 1990 World Summit for Children, the elimination of neonatal tetanus, defined as less than one case of tetanus per 1,000 live births in every district of every country. The aim of the initiative is to raise $100 million, of which about $45 million has already been raised, with the remaining funds being sought from U.S. Committee donors as well as developed countries. The average cost to immunize one woman and prevent the disease from affecting her newborns is just one dollar.

Through the partnership, a low-cost tetanus program for immunization and health education will be implemented in 57 countries including India, China, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Ghana. Local health workers will immunize women of childbearing age with three rounds of tetanus toxoid vaccine, as well as work to improve community and school immunization services and to teach clean birthing practices.

"Today's $26 million gift from Bill and Melinda Gates combined with the will and resources of our other supporters, both private and public, can save the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of newborns and mothers around the globe." said Charles J. Lyons, president of the U.S. Committee.

The U.S. Committee for UNICEF works for the survival, protection and development of children worldwide through education, advocacy and fundraising. Created in 1947, it is the oldest of 37 national committees around the world that support UNICEF's mission. For more information on the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, its partners or to donate to the program to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus, call 1-800-FOR-KIDS, or visit the website.

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