New vaccine targets meningitis A in Africa
Introduced just five years ago, the vaccine has almost eliminated meningitis A in Africa. There were just four laboratory-confirmed meningitis cases in the region in 2013.
“We have nearly eliminated meningitis A epidemics from Africa, but the fact is the job is not yet done,” Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, the World Health Organization's director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals, said. “Our dramatic gains against meningitis A through mass vaccination campaigns will be jeopardized unless countries maintain a high level of protection by incorporating the meningitis A vaccine into their routine childhood immunization schedules.”
The disease is caused by a bacterial infection that infects the spinal cord and brain. The illness has infected people living in 26 different countries in sub-Saharan Africa for the last 100 years. It kills and disables people each year, particularly the young. Within hours, it can cause either death or severe brain damage.
“Countries now need to decide how best to sustain the protection that initial mass vaccination campaigns provided,” Marie-Pierre Preziosi, a member of the team that developed the vaccine, said. “Our experience from other vaccine-preventable diseases has shown that if we let our guard down, these diseases will severely rebound.”