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Reflections from Senegal: Power of a vaccine

Nov 30, 2016
Victoria poses with locals at  "La Maison de la Gare" in Saint-Louis, Senegal
By Victoria Petersen Elia, Associate Director of Development and USA Region 3 Development Officer

Victoria Petersen Elia traveled to Senegal with a group from Kiwanis and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. The group witnessed activities related to health care, including maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT)  elimination sustainability.

Imagine doing everything you can to protect your unborn baby. You attend weekly nutrition classes. You learn what activities to avoid. You make sure that you and your environment are always safe. And, finally, the day arrives. But due to unsafe birthing practices, your newborn contracts tetanus and suffers, leading to a painful death.

Unfortunately, this is reality for women in 19 countries today—one that can be easily prevented. All it takes is three doses of the tetanus vaccine. Luckily, Senegal eliminated tetanus in 2012 and its women no longer worry about losing their children to the disease. Our delegation witnessed how the country has sustained MNT elimination, by incorporating the tetanus vaccine in routine immunizations. UNICEF and the Ministry of Health have changed the culture in Senegal, where receiving the tetanus vaccine is not a special event. It is normal.

It is evident as women now trek for miles just to get their babies vaccinated. They walk because they know the importance of the vaccines to their children and themselves. And they attend nutrition clinics to learn proper eating habits and what to provide for their children to keep them healthy.

These women have the same bond with their children that all mothers share—regardless of where they live. They will do whatever it takes to make sure their children are safe, even if that means they have to walk. I know because I have a 2-year-old son, and I saw myself in these women.

That sacred bond between a woman and her baby is what we aim to protect through The Eliminate Project. Every donation is transformed into lifesaving vaccines. And those vaccines are needed to help keep families whole in countries like Senegal. Help finish the fight.