LONDON, June 6 Case numbers in Africa's
meningitis season this year were the lowest in 10 years thanks
to a cheap new vaccine designed to treat a type of the disease
common in the so-called meningitis belt, the World He0alth
Organisation said on Thursday.
The vaccine, called MenAfriVac, was developed with funding
from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation specifically for use
against meningitis A, a type which causes regular epidemics in
Detailing data for Jan. 1 to May 12, the United Nations
health agency said that just under 9,250 meningitis cases,
including 857 deaths, were reported in 18 of the 19 African
countries under enhanced surveillance for meningitis.
Epidemics of meningitis A occur regularly in Africa's
"meningitis belt", a band of 26 countries stretching from
Senegal to Ethiopia, and are particularly devastating to
children and young adults.
Bacterial meningitis, known as meningococcal meningitis, is
a serious infection of the thin lining surrounding the brain and
spinal cord. It can cause severe brain damage and is fatal in 50
percent of cases if untreated.
According to the non-profit Meningitis Vaccine Project
(MVP), which helped develop the MenAfriVac vaccine, the seasonal
outbreak of meningitis across sub-Saharan Africa in 2009
infected at least 88,000 people and killed more than 5,000.
The WHO said the falling numbers this year were due to the
introduction of the newly developed vaccine. MenAfriVac costs
just 50 U.S. cents a dose and has been progressively introduced
in Africa since 2010, starting in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
"The introduction of this first meningococcal vaccine
available for preventive purposes in Africa has enabled the
immunisation of over 100 million people from 10 countries in the
meningitis belt in the past three years," the WHO said.
"The reduced case load and epidemic activity observed this
year adds to the evidence on the impact...of this vaccine."
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Mark Heinrich)