Accra, Dec. 7, GNA – The World Health Organization said a revolutionary meningitis vaccine will reach the 100 millionth person this week in a region of Africa that has been plagued by deadly epidemics for more than a century.
It stated that the milestone will take place in northern Nigeria, part of Africa’s ‘meningitis belt’, where the country is conducting its second seasonal immunization campaign against the disease.
This was contained in a press statement made available to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) on Thursday by the organization.
The statement said the historic achievement comes two years after the MenAfriVac® vaccine was first launched in Burkina Faso and since then, nine other countries had held vaccination campaigns to protect people from ages 1 to 29 against meningitis A.
“Nigeria will vaccinate 16 million people over the next two weeks and Cameroon and Chad are also conducting immunization campaigns this week targeting 5.5 million and 2.3 million people respectively.
By the end of this year, the vaccine will have reached more than 112 million people, providing widespread and long-awaited protection,” the statement noted.
It said the achievement would be recognized at the GAVI Alliance Partners (formerly The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) Forum, which is bringing together developing countries, donors, civil society, technical and research institutes, health agencies and the vaccine industry this week in Dar es Salaam, the capital of the United Republic of Tanzania.
“When we began developing this vaccine, we knew how desperately it was needed, and we hoped it would quickly provide relief for the many people who dread sub-Saharan Africa’s meningitis season,” the statement cited Steve Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer of PATH (an international nonprofit organization that transforms global health through innovation), which partnered with WHO to create MenAfriVac®.
“We are so proud to see African countries quickly embrace this vaccine and to see that deadly and debilitating meningitis cases have virtually disappeared in the regions that have been vaccinated,” it added.
The statement quoted Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health as saying: “This milestone has been achieved thanks to the commitment of national governments and support from WHO and other partners,”
“We must continue our efforts to implement vaccination campaigns in the remaining meningitis belt countries and ensure widespread uptake of the MenAfriVac vaccine,” it said.
According to the statement, Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance; which is providing funding for the vaccines being used in the campaigns, said Meningitis is a terrible disease, which kills young people, creates severe neurological damage in many survivors, and devastates communities; and that it is nothing short of remarkable that exactly two years after the first GAVI-funded meningitis vaccination campaign in the meningitis belt, the 100 millionth will have their life protected.
“The development of MenAfriVac as a low-cost vaccine was critically important for the global health community,” it cited Chris Elias, President of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Vaccines work to save and improve lives and the speed with which the governments in meningitis-affected countries have introduced this new vaccine to protect young people is exemplary,” the statement added.
“Meningitis ‘A’ epidemics have affected the poorest families in countries of the Sahel, in the worst cases killing one third of the affected community. But now campaigns are bringing hope to the poor families of previously unreached communities, which are mobilizing their members around this safe, effective and affordable vaccine.” It quoted Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.
It said seasonal meningitis A epidemics threaten the lives of 450 million people living in the ‘meningitis belt’, which stretches through 26 countries from Gambia in the west to Eritrea in the east.
It explained that the disease causes a painful inflammation of the lining around the brain and the spine that can kill people within 24 to 48 hours; while those who survive often face severe learning difficulties, deafness, or amputated limbs. Children and young adults are most at risk.
The statement said in the largest-ever seasonal epidemic in Africa’s history, in 1996-1997, meningitis A infected 250 000 people and killed 25 000.
It stated that in 1997, African ministers of health appealed to WHO and other partners to find a lasting solution to the dreadful disease.
The statement held that in 2001, PATH and WHO formed the Meningitis Vaccine Project to develop a vaccine that would tackle the meningococcus strain that causes meningitis A at a price that African countries could afford.
It said historically, new vaccines had either not been designed to cover variants of diseases found in developing countries or have been too expensive for developing countries to include in their immunization schedules.
The statement noted that the partners worked with the Serum Institute of India Ltd. to develop and manufacture the vaccine at a cost of less than US$0.50 per dose.
“The vaccine has already significantly reduced the burden of meningitis in the regions where it has been introduced. In Burkina Faso, which launched the inaugural MenAfriVac® campaign in December 2010, there were no cases of meningitis A among those who were vaccinated.” The statement stated.
“This vaccine is having a tremendous impact on the lives of people in some of the world’s most vulnerable towns and villages. The partners involved in developing this vaccine deserve tremendous credit for ensuring the right vaccine is available at the right price.” It added.
The statement reiterated that on October 31, 2012, MenAfriVac® received approval to be kept outside the cold chain for up to four days at up to 40°C, in a controlled temperature chain (CTC).
It said MenAfriVac® is the first vaccine intended for use in Africa approved for this type of use, potentially setting a regulatory path that other heat-stable vaccines can follow.
It said cold chain limitations have posed logistical challenges for MenAfriVac® and other vaccine programmes, increasing programme costs, delaying roll-outs, limiting access to “last mile” communities and allowing outbreaks to continue.
The statement noted that Benin launched the pilot project using the new CTC approach during its roll-out of the vaccine from 15–25 November 2012.
According to the statement, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan have all conducted campaigns with the MenAfriVac® vaccine since its introduction in 2010.