Gates Foundation gives $26 million to UNICEF : Gift is the largest donation group has ever received

it will help battle tetanus

November 22, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

An American support group for UNICEF, the United Nations children's fund, announced yesterday that it has received its largest donation ever, a grant of $26 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation earmarked for the elimination of tetanus among mothers and babies in the poorest nations.

Nearly 250,000 people, most of them infants, died of tetanus in the developing world in 1998, according to the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, the American support group and the oldest of UNICEF's 37 national support committees. Only one newborn infant died of tetanus in the United States in the same year, the committee said.

The grant from the foundation, which was created by Gates, the chairman and co-founder of the Microsoft Corp., is intended to make immunizations more widely available to the poor.

"It helps us close the gap between what we are capable of doing in the world and what we are actually going to do," said Charles J. Lyons, president of the U.S. committee. The money will be turned over to UNICEF for its programs abroad.

"UNICEF and others have strategies for dealing with neonatal tetanus," Lyons, a former UNICEF official, said in an interview on Thursday. "We're down to 57 countries, 27 of which account for 90 percent of cases. But there was no movement on that because the resources weren't there."

The campaign to eliminate neonatal tetanus received its first pledge of assistance in 1998 from Becton, Dickinson & Co., a leading maker of syringes, which offered donations of equipment and some funds. The Gates grant, Lyons said, is expected to prompt more donations because people like to be part of a demonstrably successful project.

"I don't think there is much of a limit on people's interest and willingness to give, but they want to see results; they want to see lasting results,'' he said.

UNICEF says that its campaign can effectively eliminate neonatal tetanus as a health hazard if the organization can raise $100 million to inoculate 100 million women by 2005.

Lyons said that the Gates grant, which follows grants to several U.N. projects from Ted Turner's U.N. Foundation, reflects a growing interest in development among companies that want to expand their business abroad.

"We're at this very interesting stage historically," he said. "I don't believe that the private sector is giving more in terms of international development because government funding is being reduced. I think the private sector is much more engaged because their own vested interests are touched.

"There are more and more companies that are operating in more and more countries where they want to grow. Countries where we're still dealing with maternal and neonatal tetanus include India, China, parts of Southeast Asia, parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Companies see this as part of their growth strategies."

Mothers in poor nations become infected by tetanus bacteria through unsterilized gynecological procedures or unsanitary conditions at childbirth. Babies can be infected when the umbilical cord is cut, UNICEF experts say. Death can follow symptoms such as spasms, stiffness and the loss of the ability to breathe.

Inoculation protects both the mother and her newborn.

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