Like many people in the UK on Friday night, I sat and watched some of Comic Relief. I partly did this for research but also because it’s a great cause. It’s always an odd night where sadness and humour are juxtaposed. Out of the many sad and uplifting stories, two stories remained with me.
The first was of a little boy who had been playing football barefoot when he cut himself and contracted Tetanus. His parents spent the only money they had on the long journey to the hospital that could hopefully make him better. His body had already started to spasm and he had bitten his tongue due to his jaw muscles locking (lockjaw). His tongue eventually had to be removed and he sadly died later that night.
Now I don't know that much about Tetanus, apart from I was lucky enough to be vaccinated when I was very young, but many children around the world do not have this privilege. Yet, such a simple and cheap vaccination should not be a privilege but a reality. Tetanus is an international health problem, as C. tetani spores are abundant. The disease almost always strikes in those unvaccinated or inadequately immunized. Tetanus occurs worldwide but is more common in hot, damp climates with soil rich in organic matter. This is particularly true with manure-treated soils, as the spores are widely dispersed in the intestines and faeces of many non-human animals such as horses, sheep and cattle.
C. tetani spores can be brought into the body through puncture wounds. The spores release bacteria that spread and make a poison called tetanospasmin. This poison blocks nerve signals from the spinal cord to the muscles, causing severe muscle spasms. Such a transmission can also occur following childbirth when the infant’s umbilical cord is cut. This transmission is normally due to poor hygiene standards and poorly sterilized equipment. However, ensuring greater levels of hygiene and immunization for women of childbearing age can reduce transmission. A more coherent health service would also reduce numbers which are at their highest in many African countries such as Angola, Burkina Faso and Ghana.
Tetanus – in particular, the neonatal form – remains a significant public health problem in non-industrialised countries. The World Health Organization estimates that 59,000 newborns worldwide died in 2008 as a result of neonatal tetanus.
The second one was of a mother who had little food to feed her daughter and herself with, so she chose to give the little food she did have to her daughter leading to her own death several days later. I can’t imagine not having food to eat but the choice of saving your child over yourself seems a choice most mothers and fathers would make whether in the UK or Western Ghana.