Meningitis Immunization Program To Launch In 3 African Countries Next Month

At a press conference in London, health officials said that the anticipated roll-out of the MenAfriVac for meningitis in three African countries will start on Dec. 6, the BBC reports. “The vaccine, which has been developed in India, costs less than fifty U.S. cents a dose and clinical tests suggest it could offer protection for between 10 and 15 years,” the news service writes (Bowdler, 11/22).

Reuters reports that MenAfriVac “protects against bacterial meningitis A, a strain of the disease that causes annual epidemics in 25 countries in Africa in which thousands die and many more are permanently disabled. … The so-called ‘meningitis belt’ in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rates of the disease in the world, stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east” (Kelland, 11/22).

The first MenAfriVac programs will be rolled out in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger next month, U.K. Press Association reports. “Most of the funding is expected to come from the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation (GAVI), which aims to improve access to vaccines in poor countries. All the vaccine’s development costs were paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” according to the news service (11/22).

The BBC reports that WHO officials estimate that the initial vaccination campaign will cost $570 million, and “[i]t is hoped the majority of this money will come from donor organisations, with the rest coming from the African states” (11/22).

At the press conference, the WHO’s director of vaccines, Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, said, “The impact of this vaccine will be truly enormous. … This will affect the lives of 450 million people who are at risk of this disease in the African meningitis belt,” Reuters reports (11/22).

According to the BBC, Marc LaForce of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, said the low price of MenAfriVac was afforable for Africa: “This vaccine costs less than 50 cents a dose. … When we first had discussions with Africans, they basically implored us ‘please do not make a vaccine we cannot afford – that’s worse than having no vaccine at all'” (11/22).