Tuesday, August 03, 2010

New meningitis vaccine to be unleashed in Africa this fall

Yesterday, The New York Times reported on a new meningitis vaccine, which costs only $.50 a treatment, that is due for mass distribution in Africa this fall. The vaccine is meant to cheaply, but effectively, target the epidemic that plagues Sub-Saharan Africa every year. The region is home to the "meningitis belt," 25 countries from Ethiopia to Senegal that have the highest rates of meningitis infections in the world. Between 25,000 and 200,000 people are effected by the outbreak every year, most of whom are children. Nearly 10% of infected people die within 48 hours of contracting the disease, with another 20% suffering from brain damage or hearing loss. Seasonal winds spread the highly contagious disease, with most of the cases occurring between February and May.

However, this new vaccine may provide a way for financially strapped African governments to provide an effective solution to the disease. The vaccine was developed under the co-operative efforts of the World Health Organization and PATH, a non-profit based in Seattle that develops treatments for diseases in third world countries. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded five years of research and trials for the vaccine as well. Meningitis is highly preventable with proper vaccination- many US schools require students to be immunized. The vaccine is due for it's first major distribution in Burkina-Faso this October. However, the number of countries who have access to the medication will be determined by how much donors are able to give.

-Matthew Thwaites