New, affordable vaccine stops meningitis now
WHO appeals for funds
Geneva, 25 September 2003 - An inexpensive new meningitis vaccine has been made available in record time, and now the World Health Organization is issuing an appeal to buy millions of doses of the vaccine before the meningitis season strikes.
Each year, meningitis sweeps across sub-Saharan Africa, sometimes igniting outbreaks involving 100,000 people or more. Vaccination is the only effective public health weapon to contain these outbreaks. However, two years ago those battling the disease suffered an enormous setback with the emergence of a strain, W135, for which no affordable vaccine existed. But in record time, a new vaccine has been developed by GlaxoSmithKline specifically for these outbreaks. It is being made available to WHO at one Euro per dose to build an emergency response stockpile for African countries. Now, funds are urgently needed to produce the new vaccine before the next wave of meningitis begins. Because of production constraints, funds to purchase six million doses must be found within days.
“This is an urgent health situation which forces quick action,” said Dr Anarfi Asamoa–Baah, Assistant Director-General in charge of Communicable Diseases at the World Health Organization. “But if we can do it, we can ease suffering, save lives and bring hope to tens of thousands of people who live in the direct path of this disease.”
Every year, the disease ravages people living in Africa’s “meningitis belt,” a swath that reaches from Ethiopia to Senegal where 350 million people live. At least 10% of those infected die and many others are left permanently disabled. The new threat, W135, exploded in Burkina Faso in 2002, striking more than 13,000 and killing at least 1500.
When W135 emerged as a major threat, the World Health Organization went to work with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and, later, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop, test and licence such a new vaccine. That work is done and now meningitis, even its newest and most threatening form, can be slowed significantly if there is money to buy the vaccine.
“The tragedy of meningitis will be compounded if we can’t get this new vaccine to those who need it most,” said Dr Dr Anarfi Asamoa–Baah.
Virtual Press Conference
WHO will conduct a virtual press conference at 15:30 Geneva Time (13.30 GMT) on Thursday, September 25 to discuss the meningitis appeal. Journalists will be able to listen via teleconferencing and queue to ask questions. To participate in the conference call, journalists should phone +41 1 419 9021 from outside of Switzerland or 01 419 9021 from within Switzerland.