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UN-led partnership moves quickly to head off new meningitis outbreak in Africa

UN-led partnership moves quickly to head off new meningitis outbreak in Africa

Just months after a new epidemic strain of meningitis emerged in Burkina Faso, a United Nations-led partnership has moved quickly to make available three million doses of a new, low-cost vaccine to countries throughout Africa’s “meningitis belt.”

Speeding up what is usually a years-long process, the World Health Organization (WHO), GlaxoSmithKline and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are making available the ACW135 vaccine – which will cover the typical meningitis strains found in Africa (A and C) – as well as a W135 vaccine, just months after an emerging epidemic of a new strain of the killer disease was discovered.

"The record time in which we've come up with a vaccine and are making it available to those who need it is a testament to the fact that public-private partnerships can work for the betterment of health," WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said. The initial supply of the vaccine – 3 million doses – will be made available at reduced cost for the African meningitis belt in response to need over the coming months.

Until now, the prohibitive cost of the only vaccine available for W135 – between $5 and $50 per dose – put it out of reach of the countries where it was most needed. The new vaccine is available at $ 1.50 per dose once delivered to countries in the area, comprising 21 countries stretching from Ethiopia in the east to Senegal in the west, taking part in an impact evaluation due to begin this month.

The W135 is a strain found only in sporadic cases on the continent until last year, when it affected 14,453 people and killed some 1,743 in Burkina Faso. The partnership is quick-shipping 100,000 doses of the new vaccine to that country, where 1,349 cases of W135 meningitis have already been confirmed, out of which 244 people have died.