United Kingdom: More than 12 million people in Burkino Faso will be the first to receive a new meningitis vaccine as part of an Africa-wide immunisation plan, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.
The vaccine called MenAfriVac and made by Serum Institute of India, will be used to inoculate 450 million people throughout the continent by 2015.
It was developed for use against a type of the disease common in Africa and, at just 50 US cents per dose, it is designed to be cheap enough that poorer countries can afford it.
It protects against bacterial meningitis A, a strain of the disease that causes annual epidemics in 25 countries in Africa in which thousands die and many more are permanently disabled.
“The impact of this vaccine will be truly enormous,” said Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, the WHO’s director of vaccines, who announced the launch of the MenAfriVac programme at a briefing in London. “This will affect the lives of 450 million people who are at risk of this disease in the African meningitis belt.”
Bacterial meningitis, called meningococcal meningitis, is a serious infection of the thin lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can cause severe brain damage and is fatal in 50 per cent of cases if untreated.
The so-called “meningitis belt” in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rates of the disease in the world, stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east.
Okwo-Bele said about 85 per cent of meningitis cases in Africa were caused by meningitis A and the disease hit mainly in the dry season, between January and March