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UN-backed partnership says new vaccine could end meningitis misery in Africa

UN-backed partnership says new vaccine could end meningitis misery in Africa

A new meningitis vaccine has proven effective in West African children, trumping any other vaccine currently on the market in the region and providing hope that the epidemic will eventually be eliminated, a United Nations-backed partnership announced today.

The preliminary results of the successful trial of the vaccine – expected initially to sell for 40 cents a dose – were released by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a UN World Health Organization (WHO) and United States-based nonprofit PATH partnership.

The 21 affected sub-Saharan African countries, collectively known as the ‘meningitis belt,’ could witness the slashing of the epidemic’s incidence due to the vaccine, according to the results.

Last year over 41,500 cases were reported, while between 1 January and 6 May of this year, an additional almost 48,000 cases have been reported, raising concerns of a new epidemic wave in the region.

“This important study brings real hope that the lives of thousands of children, teenagers, and young adults will be saved by immunization and that widespread suffering, sickness and socioeconomic disruption can be avoided,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

Meningitis – one of the most dreaded infectious diseases worldwide – occurs when the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord becomes infected. Even with antibiotic treatment, at least 10 per cent of patients die and up to 20 per cent are left with permanent problems including mental retardation, deafness, epilepsy and necrosis which could lead to limb amputation.

The partnership’s data shows how the vaccine could block serogroup A meningococcus, which could lead to the entire population, including those who are not vaccinated, to be protected as well in a phenomenon known as ‘herd immunity.’

“When it becomes part of the public health arsenal, this vaccine will make a real difference in Africa,” said F. Marc LaForce, MVP director. “The vaccine will allow elimination of the meningococcal epidemics that have afflicted the continent for more than 100 years.”

The trial was conducted in 12 to 23-month-olds in Malia and Gambia, and results showed that the vaccine is safe and produces antibody levels nearly 20 times higher than those obtained with the polysaccharide vaccine which is being sold on the market, which means the protection the new vaccine provides can last for several years.

The next phase of trials will take place in Mali, Gambia and at least one other country in the region, and the vaccine will be tested in 2 to 29-year-olds, which is the population that will be mostly targeted by mass vaccination campaigns.