New meningitis vaccine begins testing

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are the testing ground for a new meningitis vaccine that could potentially save lives throughout the world.

By the end of September, more than a million people had received the vaccine for group A meningococcal meningitis, the most prevalent strain in the so-called “meningitis belt” that stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia, according to The three countries were chosen as test locations because of the high prevalence of infectious disease and their ability to carry out a large scale vaccination program.

The new vaccine will be put into full use in December 2010, the start of meningitis season in sub-Saharan Africa, and is expected to be effective for ten years, reports. It was developed jointly over the last eight years by the Serum Institute of India, the World Health Organization and PATH, a major international nonprofit organization.

In 2009, the 14 countries that make up the “meningitis belt” reported more than 88,000 cases of meningitis that were responsible for approximately 4,000 deaths, according to WHO estimates.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, and is usually caused by a virus. Depending on its cause, it can resolve itself in a couple of weeks or become a potentially life threatening emergency, according to the Mayo Clinic. Typically, meningitis triggers a stiff neck, headache and fever.