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AP Reports On How Newly Approved Vaccine Could Revolutionize Prevention Of Meningitis In Africa

The WHO’s recent prequalification approval of a low-cost meningitis vaccine could “help prevent epidemics in Africa for the first time, revolutionizing how doctors fight outbreaks of the deadly disease,” the Associated Press reports.

“Meningitis, a potentially fatal infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, strikes more than 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia” – a region known as the Meningitis Belt, the news service writes. “Last year, there were about 80,000 cases including more than 4,000 deaths.”

The meningitis vaccine currently used in the developing world only offers short-term protection and cannot be used in children under age two (Cheng, 6/30).

In contrast, the meningitis vaccine developed through a collaboration between the WHO and the non-profit PATH and the Serum Institute of India, offers patients “four times greater protection and lasts ten years,” Cathy Hewison, medical advisor at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said in a press release (6/30). Such protection would allow health officials to “be able to plan ahead to prevent outbreaks,” said Daniel Berman, deputy director of MSF’s Access for Essential Medicines campaign. “This is pretty close to a revolution in terms of controlling meningitis,” he said.

“The vaccine targets type A meningitis, which causes more than 90 percent of outbreaks in Africa. Last week, WHO verified the vaccine meets its quality-control requirements, meaning other agencies like UNICEF can now buy it for countries. It costs about 40 cents a shot,” the AP reports.

The vaccine will eventually be introduced in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – “three of the countries most heavily affected by meningitis,” with the ultimate goal of vaccinating “at least 80 to 90 percent of people in meningitis-hit countries,” the AP writes. “Berman estimated they still need about $11 million, and another $475 million to get the vaccine to the other 22 countries that need it most” (6/30).

“At 40 cents a dose, it is a moral imperative to introduce the vaccine in meningitis belt countries, most of which are among the poorest countries in the world,” F. Marc LaForce, director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, said in a PATH press release. “It is everybody’s wish that the global health community and funding agencies will come forward to help introduce the first affordable conjugate vaccine that offers the hope to end 100 years of group A meningitis epidemics in Africa” (6/23).