Thanks to concerted efforts by members of the GAVI Alliance including the Serum Institute of India, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the Meningitis Vaccine Project, the seven countries will be able to launch large-scale campaigns to ensure babies, children and young adults receive the meningitis A vaccine by the end of December.
“Meningitis takes a terrible toll on the people living in vulnerable parts of Africa every year. It is a painful disease which can kill quickly and often leaves victims with disabilities that will blight their lives,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance. “GAVI support for meningitis vaccination campaigns across Africa is protecting the lives of millions of young people at risk from the illness.”
The countries holding campaigns between October and December are Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. The area between Senegal in the west and Ethiopia in the east is known as the “Meningitis Belt”.
This area of Sub-Saharan Africa is vulnerable to severe outbreaks of meningitis, which occur every 7-14 years. Up to 430 million people are at risk from the illness which can kill the most severely affected patients within 48 hours and causes brain damage, hearing loss or learning difficulties in 20 % of sufferers. The most recent major outbreak, in 1996, saw 250,000 people contract meningitis, of which 25,000 died.
Even the threat of meningitis has a devastating effect on communities. During the meningitis season many people decide to avoid large gatherings where the risk of transmission is high. This can mean children missing school and adults not going to work.
Meningitis Vaccine Project
The MenAfriVac vaccine, which was developed by the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a unique public-private partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and PATH, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will be used in the campaigns. It is a vaccine that is tailored specifically towards the strains of meningococcal virus that are prevalent in Africa. MenAfriVac achieved WHO prequalification in June 2010.
The vaccine was first introduced in December 2010 in Burkina Faso which had seen more than 40,000 meningitis cases reported in 2006 and 2007. In 2012, following the vaccination of 12 million people, the country reported no cases of meningitis.
All 26 countries
For its 2011-2016 programme, GAVI plans to support immunisation in all 26 countries in the region. Since 2010, campaigns have also been launched in Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.
GAVI supports the introduction of preventive meningitis A conjugate vaccines, outbreak response, case-based surveillance, the development of risk assessments, the evaluation of vaccine impact, and country capacity building with the goal of drastically reducing deadly meningitis outbreaks as well as non-epidemic Neisseria meningitidis serogroup A (NmA) meningitis cases.