Monday, November 29, 2010

New, Cheap, Meningitis Vaccine Could Prevent Epidemic in Africa

A new meningitis vaccine, costing a fraction of the prices charged by big pharma, could help prevent epidemics in Africa, transforming the way doctors fight outbreaks of the deadly disease.

MenAfriVac protects against type A meningitis, which is attributed to more than 90% of outbreaks in Africa. It was approved by WHO last week, meaning that other agencies, like UNICEF, can now buy it for countries. It costs about 50 cents per dose.

Meningitis is a highly contagious disease which results in a serious infection of the thin lining surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. It can lead to severe brain damage and is fatal in 50 percent of cases if untreated.

The epidemic strikes more than 25 countries in sub- Saharan Africa from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east. Last year there were 80,000 cases including more than 4,000 deaths. Children and young adults are most at risk.

MenAfriVac will be launched in Burkina Faso on December 6 through collaboration with the WHO. Everyone aged 1–29 — the group hit hardest by the disease, numbering 12.5 million people, will be vaccinated. The program will then reach out to Mali and Niger, which will each vaccinate 4 million people in the same age bracket. The WHO hopes to complete this project that will vaccinate 450 million people in 25 African countries by 2015.

- Martina Georgieva

SOURCE: The Guardian