Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Dramatic fall in cases of meningitis A after new vaccine introduction

A line of African children and young adults queue to receive the new meningitis vaccine

Six months after the successful introduction of a new vaccine aimed at eliminating the primary cause of meningitis epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger report the lowest number of confirmed meningitis A cases ever recorded during an epidemic season.

With the 2010-2011 epidemic season largely over, WHO surveillance data show just four confirmed cases of meningitis A in Burkina Faso, the first country to introduce the vaccine nationwide. Three of the four cases occurred in individuals from neighboring Togo who crossed the border for medical care, and the fourth case was a citizen of Burkina Faso who had not received the new vaccine. No confirmed cases were reported in Mali, while four cases were reported in Niger, all in unvaccinated individuals.

While these initial data are extremely encouraging, continuing surveillance for cases of meningitis and robust systems for monitoring vaccination coverage — reported to be around 100 per cent during the December campaigns — will be crucial to confirm the impact of the vaccine as it is introduced across the African meningitis belt.

Planning is now under way for a new round of immunization campaigns in 2011-2012. Campaigns will be finalized in Mali and Niger, countries which opted to introduce the vaccine in a phased approach, and new campaigns will begin in Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria. Nearly 65 million people overall are expected to have received the MenAfriVac vaccine by the end of the year.

"The commitment of ministries of health in the African meningitis belt, partners, and affected communities to introduce this vaccine quickly, is remarkable," said Dr. Luis Sambo, WHO Regional Director for Africa, adding that "WHO and partners will continue to support countries in strengthening disease surveillance and vaccine safety monitoring systems as the vaccine is introduced across Africa."

Introducing countries and project partners are aiming for introduction in the other 19 countries of the meningitis belt by 2016. They are keenly aware, however, that achievement of this goal is dependent on mobilization of a further US$ 375 million. It is hoped that the international community will use the opportunity of the GAVI Alliance's Pledging Conference for Immunisation, to be held on 13 June in London, to commit sufficient funds to supplement the budgets of introducing countries to meet this gap.

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