Nairobi – Experts said a new vaccine has virtually eliminated meningitis A in 16 African countries, but children will remain vulnerable to the disease which can kill or cause severe brain damage, unless governments routinely immunise them.
This was disclosed on Tuesday in Nairobi by the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a partnership between the World Health Organisation and the charity PATH.
Marie-Pierre Preziosi, Director of the project, said The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a 70 million dollar grant in 2001 to develop and test MenAfriVac.
“It is being manufactured by a private company, Serum Institute of India.
Preziosi said more than 237 million people have been vaccinated since 2010 in a one-off mass campaign across Africa’s meningitis belt, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”70560″]
She said it was a major breakthrough because the disease had completely disappeared from the areas where the vaccine was introduced.
“Mass campaigns have been completed in 16 countries and will be rolled out in the remaining 10 meningitis belt states by 2017.
“Over 25,000 people died and 250,000 were infected in Africa’s worst meningitis outbreak in 1996, when the airborne disease spread across 14 countries,’’ she said.
Preziosi said the next step was for governments to include the vaccine, known as MenAfriVac, in their childhood immunisation programmes.
She cited a research published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, that if the vaccine is not introduce into routine immunisations, in about 15 years from now, there will be a massive epidemic.
Preziosi said in February, Ghana would become the first country to introduce MenAfriVac as a routine immunisation.
Vaccination is one of the most effective public health interventions. but the public sector usually needs to provide incentives to the private sector to develop vaccines for diseases that only affect poor populations.
Steve Davis, Head of PATH, said Meningitis A, which was the most common of five meningitis strains, spreads easily through sneezing and personal contact.
He said the bacteria cause inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, resulting in fever, trembling and, in severe cases, seizures and death.
“It was seen by many in the field as the disease that parents feared the most.
“It not only killed a lot of kids but it would often leave families and communities and health systems taking care of lots of very neurologically damaged kids.
“Brain damaged survivors can have trouble talking or taking care of themselves,’’ he said. (Reuters/NAN)