Three more countries in the so-called “meningitis belt” stretching across Africa will this month introduce a new vaccine designed to eliminate a particular strain of the often deadly disease, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today.
Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad will vaccinate millions of their citizens with MenAfriVac, which was created to target Group A meningitis, responsible for millions of cases in sub-Saharan Africa over the past century.
Alison Brunier, a spokesperson for WHO, told journalists in Geneva that the three countries plan to vaccinate about 22 million people between them, focusing on the highest-risk demographic category – those aged between one and 29 years.
She said the immunization campaign should be completed within a couple of weeks.
A year ago Burkina Faso became the first country to conduct a nationwide campaign using MenAfriVac, and Ms. Brunier said the campaign would be extended to 19 other countries in the belt by 2016.
The belt stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, and has the highest rates for the disease worldwide.
Benin, Sudan, Senegal and Ghana are expected to begin national campaigns involving MenAfriVac next year, according to WHO, with as many as 300 million people across the entire region eventually being vaccinated by 2016.
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. The disease can result in death, brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability in 10 to 20 per cent of survivors.
MenAfriVac was developed by Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) – a partnership between WHO and the global non-profit organization PATH, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.