Burkina Faso on Monday became the first country to begin a nationwide campaign to introduce a new meningitis vaccine that promises to rid the entire Sub-Saharan Region of the primary cause of epidemic meningitis.
The first vaccine designed specifically for Africa, MenAfriVac is expected to help health workers eliminate meningococcal ‘A’ epidemics in the 25 countries of the meningitis belt, stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east.
According to a statement copied to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) by the Meningitis Vaccine Project – A partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization, using a unique public-private partnership model, the development of MenAfriVac cost less than one-tenth the 500 million dollars usually required to develop and bring a new vaccine to market.
The statement said for more than 100 years, Sub-Saharan Africa had suffered from epidemics that exacted a terrible and deadly toll.
As many as 450 million people are at risk from the disease across Africa.
It said group A epidemics occurred every seven to 14 years and were particularly devastating to children and young adults. The patients typically died within 24 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, and of those who survived, 10 to 20 per cent suffer brain damage, hearing loss or a learning disability.
In 2009, the seasonal outbreak of meningitis across a large swathe of Sub-Saharan Africa infected at least 88,000 people and led to more than 5,000 deaths.
“This historic event signals the beginning of the end of a disease that has brought sickness and suffering to generations of Africans,” said Seydou Bouda, Minister of Health of Burkina Faso.
“The unique collaborative effort that has made this breakthrough possible is both testament to the commitment of Ministers of Health across Africa and the relentless dedication of our technical partners in developing a vaccine that specifically meets the needs of countries in the African meningitis belt.”
Developed by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) – a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and PATH, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – the new meningococcal A conjugate vaccine MenAfriVac provides African Health authorities for the first time with an affordable long-term solution that protects even young children against meningitis A (group A Neisseria meningitidis).
The introduction of MenAfriVac in Burkina Faso would be closely followed by the introduction in Mali, Niger and two other hyper-endemic countries in the meningitis belt.
Vaccine introduction in these three countries has been made possible through the support of a number of funding and technical partners, including the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Médecines sans Frontières, and UNICEF.
“Having procured the vaccine, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health of Burkina Faso and local communities to ensure that this extraordinary campaign is a success,” said Dr Gianfranco Rotigliano, Regional Director of the UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa.