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Kiwanis Club chips in to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus worldwide

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The Kiwanis Club of Los Altos has joined forces to help eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus by 2015. A woman in Ghana receives a tetanus shot to increase her chances of healthy future births.

A local community group is playing a role in erasing maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) worldwide.

Douglas Roberts, who serves as a director for the Kiwanis Club of Los Altos, said his organization is raising funds locally to help eradicate MNT as part of the Eliminate Project – an effort in partnership with Kiwanis International and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The international organizations founded the project in 2011 with the goal of eliminating MNT in impoverished areas throughout the world by 2015. The effort means Kiwanis International must raise $110 million to fund the hiring of medical staffs and provide tetanus vaccinations to more than 100 million mothers and babies.

The local group serves as a “model club” for the global campaign, pledging at least $750 fundraised per member for an overall club goal of more than $20,000.

So far, the club has raised approximately $9,000 – which includes personal commitments of more than $1,000 each by four members.

Among other things, the club donates one vaccination – at a cost of approximately $1.80 per dose – for every Christmas tree sold each holiday season at its local tree lot to support the project.

“We do a lot of fundraising that brings in money here and there, but this is our big one,” Roberts said of his club, known for sponsoring Los Altos’ pet parade each year. “This (project) is important – we want people to patronize our (Christmas) tree lot every year.”

Roberts added that his club is currently creating partnerships with local nonprofit organizations for the effort, leading to approximately $1,000 in cash and pledges received thus far. In addition, the club recently pledged to raise $150 per month earmarked for meals provided at weekly club meetings – and paid for through membership dues – in favor of a monthly potluck.

“We’re committed to bringing our own lunch,” he said. “The money we save will go to Eliminate (Project). We’re scratching for every dollar we can.”

Eradicating MNT

According to UNICEF, MNT infections are common in regions where childbirth deliveries typically occur in unhygienic settings. Worldwide, one baby dies every nine minutes from MNT.

Infections are caused when tetanus spores – found in soil – come into contact with open cuts during birth, leading to heartbreaking and debilitating effects, including painful convulsions and sensitivity to touch and light.

“There are babies dying all the time and it’s a painful death,” said Roberts, a 10-year member of Los Altos Kiwanis. “In fact, it’s so painful that the mothers can’t even touch their babies – they can’t comfort them at all. Can you imagine? There are these unsanitary conditions where babies are born on a dirt floor, the umbilical cord gets cut and it picks up the bacteria. The only way to properly protect the mother and child is with this inoculation.”

To date, the international project has seen its fair share of early success, raising approximately $27 million in cash and pledges through February toward its overall goal. According to Kiwanis International, the effort has led to the elimination of MNT in nine countries – including seven in 2012 alone. Still, 30 countries remain where MNT is prevalent in the poorest communities.

Roberts said that while Christmas trees may be tough to come by in the spring, residents can contribute to the effort year round by donating through the Los Altos Kiwanis Club website.

“The (UNICEF) system is in place – they’ve done all the work creating connections in these countries. All they need now is the money to buy the vaccinations,” Roberts said. “They’re confident that they can eliminate this in the remaining countries in the world. … It’s a big deal.”

To donate or for more information, visit www.losaltoskiwanis.org. Donors can also send contributions to the Los Altos Kiwanis Foundation at PO Box 484, Los Altos 94023.

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