WHO – New meningitis vaccine to prevent epidemics in Africa


Why does it matter to us in Nigeria? Well…click on the links below…and there are a lot more!

BBC 1998Meningitis outbreak in Nigeria
MOFA 2003Emergency Assistance to combat the Meningitis Epidemic in Nigeria
Bio Medicine 2006Meningitis Kills 5 In Nigeria
Leadership 2009Meningitis Outbreak in Zaria

We have grown accustomed to the meningitis epidemics that occur with remarkable seasonality in our country. Beginning with the dry season around November and disappearing with the first rains in May or June. No one really understands why…

One hypothesis is that the Harmattan dust increases transmission of the disease, which is spread person to person through respiratory droplets.

Another is that the Harmattan conditions irritate the mucus membranes, enabling the bacterium to more easily penetrate and enter the spinal fluid, where it causes disease.

Across the contries belonging to the meningitis belt“…every year brought tragedy with it.

There has been a vaccine existing for Meningitis a since the 1960s
but this “polysaccharide” does not work very well. I.e. while it prevents those carrying the bacterium from getting ill, it does not provide long lasting immunity, can only prevent illness for a few years at best and it also has little effect in children younger than 2. Therefore for it to be of any use, it will have to be given annually! Because of these limitations, WHO has long recommended that it be used only to control epidemics, not to prevent them. This strategy that has its critics…notably Prof Idris Mohammed, and Dr Abdulsalami Nasidi as published in this paper for the WHO Bulletin.

But there is good news in the air….

A new conjugate meningococcal A vaccine (“MenAfriVac”), expected to sell initially for 40 US cents a dose, much more effective in protecting against meningitis than the currently available vaccine will soon become available. Studies have shown good results and there is great hope…

The 58th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa took from 1 to 5 September in Yaoundé, Cameroon. In attendance were all the Ministers of Health in Africa. (I guess we were reperesented by our Minister of Labour also overseeing the Minsitry of Health for the last 6 months)

The Minister of Public Health of Chad ended the meeting saying; “On behalf of all affected countries in Africa, today we are collectively committing ourselves to put an end to devastating outbreaks of this disease. We will ensure that this effective new vaccine is made available to populations throughout the Meningitis belt,”…

Truly…this new vaccine can change completely our approach to meningitis, potentially significantly reducing its burden to many African countries including Nigeria.

But a vaccine can save lives only if a child gets the vaccine!

That is where the Nigeria Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA)comes in. They are the parastatal responsible for delivering vaccines to our children. What they really do is still unclear.

Sadly …I suspect that for Nigerians to access this vaccine they might well have to get it privately…that is the situation we find ourselves in.

If you are interested read stories, watch documentaries and get all the gist here.



Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (www.epiafric.com), which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Hi I am an emergency preparedness doctor and my work involves surveillance activities in the North with respect to meningitis, cholera and measles especially.

    Please do you have any information on the trend of cerebrospinal meningitis in Northern Nigeria in the last 4 or 5 years?

    Thank you!

    My email addy is t_lami@yahoo.com

  2. Sorry I did not sign my name in my last comment, Its Olaoluwatomi Lamikanra.

    Your blog is wonderful! Very Informative.

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