African Ministers Agree to Roll Out Vaccine
African Ministers Agree to Roll Out Vaccine to Fight Meningitis – UN Agency
Health ministers from sub-Saharan Africa’s “meningitis belt” pledged today to introduce a new vaccine that they hope will immunize more than 250 million people against the deadly disease, at a United Nations-backed conference held in Cameroon.
The Yaoundé Declaration, agreed by the ministers attending the conference in the Cameroonian capital, is a wide-ranging meningitis control plan that also includes strategies to improve the exchange of information for epidemic response and promises funding for epidemic control activities.
The declaration is aimed at some 25 countries in the “meningitis belt,” which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east and has been prone to many deadly outbreaks in the past.
The new vaccine, priced at just 40 cents a dose, produces a higher immune response in both toddlers and adults than the current vaccine, according to the World Health Organization WHO, which is running the week-long conference.
WHO reported in a press release that the vaccine not only offers long-term protection but also defends non-vaccinated people, living in close proximity to their immunized neighbours, against the disease.
“The new vaccine is the result of a deliberate effort to get ahead of these epidemics, at a price affordable in Africa,” said the Director-General of WHO, Margaret Chan.
Dr. Chan added, “With this vaccine, countries can move away from a reactive response to emergencies towards elimination of the epidemic threat.”
Over the next six years, some 250 million people up to the age of 29 and 23 million will be inoculated with the meningococcal A conjugate vaccine under the meningitis prevention and control plan, covering 25 countries in the troubled continent.
“Vaccination with the new meningitis vaccine is money well spent,” said Julian Lob-Leyvt, Executive Secretary of the GAVI Alliance, an immunization initiative, which includes WHO, The UN Children’s Fund UNICEF) and the World Bank.
Dr. Lob-Leyvt added, “Our initial investment of $55 million towards a meningitis stockpile will greatly help stave off additional outbreaks of this disease.”
Meningitis bacteria, which affect the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, are transmitted from person to person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions. Close and prolonged contact such as kissing, sneezing and coughing, and sharing eating or drinking utensils, facilitates the spread. Symptoms include stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. The disease can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability in 10 to 20 per cent of survivors.