Africa on brink of severe meningitis outbreak

Africa on brink of severe meningitis outbreak.
Africa on brink of severe meningitis outbreak. | Courtesy of
Health professionals have reported that Africa is at a high risk for a large meningitis outbreak.

International public health leaders have warned the public that there is a shortage of vaccines containing meningitis C.

“Meningitis tends to hit Africa in cycles,” Dr. William Perea, coordinator for control of epidemic diseases unit at WHO, said. “Cases of meningitis C have been rising since 2013, first in Nigeria in 2013 and 2014, and then in Niger in 2015. We have to be ready for a much larger number of cases during the 2016 meningitis season.”

The shortage severely inhibits global healthcare from controlling and minimizing the outbreak.

“We have had preliminary discussions with vaccine manufacturers and impressed upon them the need to produce a stockpile of five million doses of vaccine so as to be ready for flare-ups of the disease next year in Africa, but so far they haven’t yet revised their production plans to meet demand,” Dr. Imran Mirza, health specialist, program division of UNICEF, said.

Currently, the groups are seeking alternative sources for meningitis C vaccines.

“We have been working to reinforce detection and response systems, and are working to secure other sources of meningitis C vaccine in Cuba and Brazil, but the manufacturers have not yet submitted an application for WHO prequalification,” ICG Secretariat Alejandro Costa said. “Until they do, we can only turn to those manufacturers who are already prequalified and have provided vaccine in the past. We need to get them to produce and provide vaccine, in the right quantity and at an affordable price.”

Already, this outbreak has claimed the lives of 800 in Africa in the over 10,000 cases reported so far.

“In just the first six months of 2015, there have been 12,000 cases of meningitis C in Niger and Nigeria, and 800 deaths. At the same time, there has been a critical shortage of vaccine,” Dr. Myriam Henkens, international medical coordinator, MSF, said. “The campaigns consequently were limited to the critically affected age groups and areas, and even so, had to be delayed until vaccine supply became available and we believe next year will be worse. We need vaccine manufacturers to plan production of multivalent vaccine now to allow sufficient lead time and capacity to meet this demand.

World Health Organization is located at Avenue Appia 20, Geneva, Switzerland.

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