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Health & Parenting

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Salma Hayek: Mom on a Mission

Motherhood inspired Salma Hayek to take on one more high-profile role: saving women and children in Africa.

Salma Hayek: A history of activism

The Academy Award-nominated actress, executive producer of the popular TV series Ugly Betty, and star of the film Frida -- who’s currently playing Alec Baldwin’s girlfriend in a high-profile turn on the hit TV comedy 30 Rock -- is well known for her activism on domestic violence, environmental issues, and AIDS. She served as the spokesperson for the Avon Foundation’s Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program, appeared before the U.S. Senate to encourage extension of the Violence Against Women Act, and traveled to the Arctic Circle for Earth Day 2005 to heighten awareness of global warming. But after the birth of her daughter, Valentina, in September 2007, the 42-year-old Hayek says, “I was thinking that I don’t have as much time and I have to focus more, so this year I’m going to take a break from causes.”

But then One Pack=One Vaccine came calling, and she learned about tetanus. “One mother or child dies every three minutes from something that is entirely preventable,” she says. Indeed, Hayek became so committed to the campaign that she made the recent journey to Africa -- her first trip without Valentina.

“The tetanus toxin produced by tetanus spores is one of the most potent toxins ever identified,” explains François Gasse, MD, a senior project officer at UNICEF who leads the neonatal tetanus campaign. “It attacks the central nervous system, producing painful, violent, and uncontrolled spasms that lead to death in over 70% of the cases, mostly through respiratory failure but also aspiration pneumonia.”

Tetanus in developing countries

A child born in Sierra Leone has more than a one in four chance of not living to see his or her fifth birthday, and many of those deaths are caused by tetanus. Unlike many vaccine-preventable diseases, tetanus is not contagious -- it’s spread through environmental exposure. So everyone at risk needs to be vaccinated to be protected. The neonatal form of tetanus occurs in newborn infants who have not received immunity from their mothers (because they have not been vaccinated themselves). Babies are usually infected through the unhealed umbilical stump, especially when it’s been cut with a nonsterile instrument -- which happens often in remote communities in developing countries.

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