How your baby’s nappy can save a life

When you buy a pack of Pampers this autumn, you’ll help to protect a mum and baby in the world's poorest countries against tetanus. Here’s how it works

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For the past 8 years, British mums have been crucial in wiping out tetanus in 10 countries around the world. It’s all thanks to the annual Pampers partnership with UNICEF, where for every pack of nappies bought, Pampers donates the cost of one vaccination to the children’s charity’s immunisation programme.

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But with 100 million mums and babies in another 26 countries still at risk, your help is still needed. That’s why you’ll be seeing special packs of nappies in the shops over the coming weeks.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacteria found in the soil, house dust and human or animal waste, which gets into the body through a wound or burn. Next it multiples and releases a toxin that disrupts the workings of the nerves, leading to stiffness and muscle spasms. Other symptoms include fever, sweating and rapid heartbeat.

It is particularly dangerous for babies as they will develop lockjaw and stop feeding, while the spasm can be strong enough to break their tiny bones. Without treatment, it can kill a child in days. Sadly, in many developing countries, sufferers do not get diagnosed in time or live too far from medical assistance to be saved.

Who does my pack of nappies help?

Earlier this year, Babyexpert.com visited the Caribbean island of Haiti, where UNICEF and Pampers are working to eradicate tetanus by 2015, to see first hand the difficulties faced by mums and their babies.

The country is one of the 20 poorest in the world and is still suffering the after effects of a massive earthquake 3 years ago, with many families still living in temporary camps. Years of political upheaval and natural disasters mean jobs are scarce and infrastructure is poor.

Two-thirds of mums give birth at home, in unsanitary conditions and many hours walk from a hospital. Often their babies are delivered by traditional matrons who use a razor blade to cut the umblicial cord – usually the same one used by the father to shave.

It’s easy to see how infection can spread, so this is why it’s crucial to make sure expectant mums are vaccinated against the tetanus during the pregnancy. This also ensures the immunity is passed to their unborn child, protecting them until they are old enough to receive their own jabs.

How does the vaccine reach the mums and babies who need it?

It’s not as simple as administering a tetanus jab at a routine check-up. First, families need to know about it. So UNICEF have teams of community outreach workers (known as social mobilisers) who walk for hours to remote churches and market places, to educate people about the effects of this deadly disease, as well as inform them where they can receive vaccinations.

Next, teams of health workers (similar to British health visitors) carry cool boxes of vaccines across rivers and up mountains to reach communities and dispense them at clinics or mobile vaccination points. They have just a short window of time to do this crucial work before the heat spoils the serum. It’s a tough job but health worker and dad-of-eight Sirmeus Santil told us, “It is easy for me to walk and walk. I love the job, I do it five days a week.”

Mums do their bit too. Many will walk for hours to get their jabs, despite being heavily pregnant or having to carry their baby in their arms. Pregnant Christemene Jean, 25, walked for an hour with her three children, including a 1 year old, so they could all be vaccinated. 

So next time you are picking up the weekly shop, remember how far your contribution can go. It’s only one pack of nappies, but it will mean a brighter future for Christemene’s unborn child – and many more besides.

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For every specially marked pack of nappies bought, Pampers will donate the cost of one vaccine to help UNICEF in the fight against Maternal and Newborn Tetanus (MNT). Visit facebook.com/PampersUKIre to find out more.

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