Enhancing meningitis surveillance in Africa in 2003
After the outbreak of Neisseria meningitidis W135 that affected Burkina Faso in 2002, there was an increasing risk of further epidemics linked to W135 in 2003. These risks brought new challenges: the need for timely detection of the involvement of W135 and the recent availability of low cost trivalent (A/C/W) vaccine.
The WHO regional meningitis surveillance team set out to detect, confirm and respond to meningococcal disease epidemics in 10 countries of the African meningitis belt. They developed standard procedures for reporting cases; procedures for laboratory surveillance; provided laboratory support and data management training; and set in place a sub-regional surveillance network.
By the end of this year's peak period for meningoccal disease, epidemics had been documented in 5 countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria. Laboratory surveillance was strengthened at the sub-regional level and timely data was obtained during the meningitis outbreak . Laboratory surveillance also enabled the identification for the choice of vaccine in Burkina Faso and Niger as well as the isolation of N.m. W135 in 6 countries. Two million doses of an affordable A/C/W vaccine were effectively used in Burkina Faso.
The success of this newly-established sub-regional surveillance network will help raise the alert for and respond to the next major epidemic of meningococcal disease in Africa.