Salma Hayek in campaign to wipe out tetanus

Thu Oct 2, 2008 2:18pm EDT
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Actress Salma Hayek appealed on Thursday to mothers to support a global campaign to eliminate tetanus, which kills a newborn baby every three minutes in a poor country.

Hayek, spokeswoman for the Pampers/UNICEF campaign against tetanus, went to Sierra Leone last week to take part in an vaccination drive against the disease.

For each specially-marked pack of Pampers diapers sold through year-end, Procter & Gamble has pledged to donate a vaccine. UNICEF hopes to wipe out the scourge, blamed for the deaths of 140,000 babies and 30,000 mothers each year, by 2012.

"I had no idea how much it was going to really personally move me ... to actually see it in Sierra Leone," Hayek told a news conference in Geneva.

Sierra Leone is among 50 countries where newborn babies and mothers die of tetanus, which has been eradicated in industrial countries, according to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Tetanus bacteria breed in soil and can infect babies at the moment of birth in unsanitary conditions, often through the umbilical cord. Death is swift and painful.

"You cannot protect a child at birth against tetanus unless you immunize the mother during the pregnancy or before," said UNICEF expert Francois Gasse.

Three doses of the life-saving vaccine, along with the syringes, cost just $1.80, "less than a cup of coffee," he said.   Continued...

<p>Actress Salma Hayek waves as she arrives at the Women in Film 2008 Crystal and Lucy Awards in Beverly Hills, California June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>