Today’s blog comes from Ejike Ndaji, one of our occasional guest bloggers.
The U.N. has stepped up the fight against seasonal Meningitis in West Africa with the news that 50 million people in the region are set to be immunised within the next three months. The campaign is expected to reach inhabitants of the countries of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.
The campaign is being led by the Geneva-based GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership which is backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and governments including the UK. According to GAVI, the region is said to have been targeted as a result of its vulnerability to ‘seasonal severe outbreaks of meningitis’ which places up to 430 million people at risk of the disease.
The Meningitis bacteria is transmitted between people through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions and affects the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease can be spread by way of person-to-person contact such as through sharing, eating or drinking utensils, kissing, sneezing and coughing. The disease can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability which occurs in 10 to 20 per cent of survivors and in extreme cases, death.
“Meningitis takes a terrible toll on the people living in vulnerable parts of Africa every year. It is a painful disease which can kill quickly and often leaves victims with disabilities that will blight their lives,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance. Dr. Berkley added: “Nobody really understands exactly why just in that region. But every five to seven years there would be an epidemic. There would be hundreds of thousands if not millions of cases. And it would completely drive the economies to a halt.”
Reports of the renewed campaign against the disease comes on the heels of last year’s development of a new vaccine MenAfriVac, the revolutionary meningococcal A conjugate vaccine developed through the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) which aims to eliminate group A meningitis epidemics which have plagued the sub-Saharan African region for more than a century. MVP aims to eliminate meningitis as a public health concern through the development, testing, introduction, and widespread use of conjugate meningococcal vaccines. The Meningitis Vaccine Project is a partnership between the WHO, the global non-profit organisation PATH and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
News of the immunization campaign is welcome not least because of the myriad effects including economic and social which the outbreak of the disease – outbreaks are said to occur every 7-14 years – brings along with it. It is widely known that people tend to avoid large or social gatherings when these outbreaks occur with associated consequences being that children often miss school and adults avoid the workplace. Following news that the West African country of Burkina Faso has reported no new cases of Meningitis since the introduction of the MenAfriVac vaccine, hopes abound that Meningitis will be eradicated by the turn of the present decade.