Global perspective Human stories

Thousands of Central Africans immunized against meningitis outbreak – UN

Thousands of Central Africans immunized against meningitis outbreak – UN

Almost three-quarters of the population of a northern prefecture in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been vaccinated against a deadly outbreak of meningococcal meningitis that struck the impoverished nation last month, the United Nations reported today.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that nearly 65,000 people in Nana-Gribizi prefecture have been immunized in a campaign that was partly funded by the CAR Emergency Response Fund, which is managed by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.

The vaccination scheme was carried out by Central African health ministry officials, supported by staff from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It follows an outbreak last month in Nana-Gribizi, Ouham and Ouham Pendé prefectures.

Meningitis bacteria, which affect the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, are transmitted from person to person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions. Close and prolonged contact such as kissing, sneezing and coughing, and sharing eating or drinking utensils, facilitates the spread. Symptoms include stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. The disease can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability in 10 to 20 per cent of survivors.

The CAR lies within the so-called African meningitis belt, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east and where outbreaks are relatively frequent.

Meanwhile, UNICEF and WHO have also helped with a measles vaccination campaign in the Somali region of Ethiopia that reached almost 800,000 children, and WFP distributed nearly 17,000 tons of food because of an extended dry spell that has left more than one million people in need of assistance.