Cameroon: Neonatal Tetanus - Alert Issued Over Outbreak

A severe case of neonatal tetanus is being treated at the Chantal Biya Foundation in Yaounde.

17-day old baby boy is presently battling for survival at the Paediatric Ward B of the Mother and Child Centre of the Chantal Biya Foundation (CBF) in Yaounde. The baby is suffering from severe neonatal tetanus. The head of the unit, Dr Clémence Vougmo, a paediatrician, says they are lucky the baby is still alive and is undergoing an intensive care with hopes that he survives. This is a dramatic situation, because, according to Dr Vougmo, Cameroon had already received the status for the elimination of neonatal and maternal tetanus. Such a situation calls for vigilance because the elimination of the disease does not mean there will be no more new infections, the medical practitioner explained. Neonatal tetanus still exists in the country with cases being treated at the Chantal Biya Foundation, a hospital designed to care for children especially those between 0-15 years, with particular focus on children between 0-28 days. Dr Clémence Vougmo says in a year, the hospital can receive three cases of neonatal tetanus.

In 2018, the hospital received two cases of tetanus. This year, one case of neonatal tetanus is currently being treated at the hospital. This is a case Dr Clémence Vougmo describes as dangerous and a sign of a tetanus outbreak because the signal of a case of tetanus indicates an epidemic in the zone where the baby was born-that is at the Essomba neighbourhood in Yaounde. The mother in question is about 22 years-old with a poor gynaecology follow-up during her first three pregnancies, during which she never carried out any prenatal consultation. As such, she has never received any anti-tetanus vaccine. After delivering her baby, health personnel reveal that while at home, she was using her saliva, salt and a bit of soil to treat the umbilical cord. This quickly exposed the baby to tetanus because it is acquired through exposure to the spores of the bacterium Clostridium tetani which are universally present in the soil. The baby was brought to the Chantal Biya Foundation after nine days of delivery when he refused to take breast milk five days after birth because of difficulties to open the mouth, developed high fever and started convulsing. Professor Chiabi Andreas Tehji, head of the paediatric unit at the Yaounde Gynaecological and Paediatric Hospital in Yaounde says tetanus cases have also been received at his unit with children above five years. The most recent was two months ago with one death registered. It is time for health workers to maintain the epidemiological surveillance of the disease while encouraging mothers to effectively carryout prenatal consultation which will permit them to freely receive the anti- tetanus vaccine which will not only protect them but also their babies.

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