Another infectious disease bites the dust (mostly)

On November 10th, 2015, the WHO issued a press release stating that five years after the introduction and incorporation of an affordable conjugate meningitis A vaccine in the “meningitis belt” of Africa, that area has controlled and nearly eliminated the deadly meningitis A disease. In 2014, there were only 4 laboratory confirmed cases of meningitis A in the 26 “meningitis belt” countries. Compare that to 2009 when 80,000 cases of meningitis A were reported in the same 26 countries.

Map showing Africa's 'meningitis belt' countries and hyperendemic countries, including each country's 2009 population.

The MenAfriVac vaccine is being rolled out across the 26 nations of Africa’s meningitis belt over the course of seven years. Illustration: PATH/David Simpson.

The meningitis A vaccine, commonly known as MenAfriVac, was developed in response to a plea for help after a 1996 outbreak of meningitis A in sub-Saharan Africa infected over 250,000 and killed over 25,000 in a few months. Meningitis A is a bacterial infection of the brain and spinal cord. It is an airborne disease mostly affecting infants, children and young adults. It routinely kills about 10% of patients and of those that survive, 1 in 5 suffer severe brain damage or hearing loss.

In the last five years over 200 million infants, children and young adults have been vaccinated for meningitis A in 16 of the 26 countries that make up the “meningitis belt”. The remaining 10 countries still need to fully implement vaccination campaigns. By 2020 the vaccine is expected to prevent over 1 million cases of meningitis A, 150,000 deaths and 250,000 cases of severe disability.

While the WHO calls this vaccine a “stunning success” they still caution that meningitis A could return if MenAfriVac is not added to routine childhood immunizations. Modeling suggests that if immunization programs do not incorporate MenAfriVac after the one-off vaccination campaign, “meningitis belt” countries could expect to see a catastrophic resurgence in about 15 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *