Meningitis Vaccine
Meningitis is an infection, either viral or bacterial, that occurs around the brain and spinal cord. The bacterial form of this disease can have very severe consequences. According to PATH, 10% of victims die even with antibiotic treatment — 80% without any treatment — and survivors can still suffer from hearing loss or paralysis. Thankfully, a new meningitis vaccine offers hope despite these daunting statistics.

Sudan is one of 26 countries in Africa located in the “meningitis belt,” an area with a total population of about 450 million that has been deeply affected by meningitis over the past century. Epidemics arose about once every eight to 12 years according to PATH, and in 1996 25,000 people were killed in the largest meningitis epidemic.

Addressing meningitis in Africa is difficult because although meningitis A is one of the main causes of epidemics in Africa, most industrialized countries have meningitis C posing the largest problem. As a result, vaccine manufacturers focus on designing vaccines for industrialized countries to net more profit, and unfortunately, African countries then fail to receive the types of vaccines they need to combat meningitis A.

MVP to the Rescue

The creation of the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) via a collaboration between the WHO and PATH in 2001 did much to help the situation. MVP was able to create a meningitis A vaccine, trademarked as MenAfriVac, that could also be cheaply administered for less than 50 cents for one dose.

MVP then introduced the vaccine in mass vaccination campaigns, and as a result, 235 million people gained immunity. Amazingly, only 80 cases of meningitis A were recorded in 2015 — a huge improvement compared to the 250,000 reported cases from the 1996 epidemic.

Continuing the Success

So why then is Sudan incorporating the vaccine into its routine immunization program important if so much progress has been made in reducing meningitis outbreaks? Despite the success of the current round of immunizations, if the vaccines are not continually administered in the future, epidemics could begin again in as early as 15 years.

The fact that the meningitis A vaccine is now part of Sudan’s routine immunization program means that at birth children will automatically receive the vaccine. As long as this program remains in effect, Sudan will likely not have to worry about meningitis. This year, 720,000 Sudanese children less than one year of age are expected to receive the vaccine.

Additionally, another vaccination campaign targeting children between one and five years old will go into effect this September. These children might have missed out on the Sudanese vaccination campaign that took place in 2012 and 2013, so the additional vaccinations provide another precaution against an outbreak.

Other countries should follow Sudan in adopting the meningitis vaccine into routine immunization programs. That way, these countries will be able to suppress meningitis on their own even without vaccination campaigns and help hundreds to combat the deadly infection.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr

MenAfriVacOn Feb. 22, 2016, vaccine experts from all over the world convened in Ethiopia with leaders from the 26 African “meningitis belt” countries to celebrate the success achieved by MenAfriVac, a vaccine created for use in Africa.

The vaccine was developed specifically for Africa and targets meningococcal A meningitis, a bacterial infection of the thin lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is a highly-feared disease due to its capacity to kill its host within hours. Survivors often experience permanent hearing loss, paralysis or even mental retardation.

“We have achieved something truly historic with MenAfriVac®—creating an affordable, effective, tailor-made vaccine for Africa,” said Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, a nonprofit global health organization.

According to PATH, more than 90 percent of meningitis epidemics in Africa attacked mostly infants, children and young adults. To zero in on this specific cause of meningitis, PATH partnered with the Meningitis Vaccine Project and the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the five years that MenAfriVac has been in effect, 235 million children and adults have been vaccinated. From 250,000 cases during an epidemic from 1996 to 1997, to only 80 confirmed cases in 2015, the vaccine has effectively protected millions of people.

However, a resurgence is possible within 15 years if an immunization program is not implemented permanently. Several countries applied for funding to begin implementing MenAfriVac into their national childhood immunization programs. Gavi, a global health partnership that focuses on vaccines, has spent $367 million campaigning and stockpiling the vaccine since 2008 to support these countries.

“Meningitis A was a scourge across Africa’s meningitis belt for generations but today we can be proud that a safe, effective meningitis vaccine is protecting hundreds of millions of people from death and disability,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO. “But we must not be complacent. It is critical that at-risk countries begin introducing this vaccine into their routine schedules and ensuring every child is reached and protected.”

This achievement could not have been possible without the vital partnerships that contributed to the development of the vaccine. U.S. agencies financially supported MenAfriVac, provided technical expertise and participated in clinical studies of the vaccine.

Continued partnerships could lead to solutions for other diseases around the world and have a positive impact on global health.

Emily Ednoff

Sources: Gavi, PATH
Photo: Flickr

meningitis_A_vaccineA new report published in Clinical Infectious Diseases suggests that meningitis A is nearly eliminated in Africa.

We can thank a vaccine developed only five years ago. It was produced to help curb meningitis A, a strain that only impacts Africa.

The need to create the vaccine became apparent in 1996 when more than 250,000 people became infected with the disease and 25,000 people died.

While meningitis can be fatal, prevention is possible. Brown University estimates that a simple vaccination can prevent up to 70 percent of meningitis bacteria strains.

However, for those living in impoverished conditions, accessing life-saving medications may not always be possible. In 2010, the United Nations reported that approximately 28 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lived on less than $1.25 per day.

The meningitis epidemic prompted action from African health ministers. Answering that call was the Serum Institute of India, which produced a low-cost vaccine that only costs 50 cents a dose.

The vaccine was made possible in large part to the generosity of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that provided $70 million to initiate its development.meningitis_A_vaccine

“The disease is highly feared on the continent; it can kill or cause severe brain damage within hours,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

“But just 5 years after an affordable meningitis A vaccine was introduced, its use has led to the control and near elimination of the deadly meningitis A disease in the African ‘meningitis belt’ stretching across the continent from Senegal to Ethiopia.”

The success of the vaccine is incredible. In 2013, WHO revealed that there were only four laboratory-confirmed cases across the 26 countries in Africa’s “meningitis belt.”

“We have nearly eliminated meningitis A epidemics from Africa, but the fact is the job is not yet done,” said Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, WHO’s director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. “Our dramatic gains against meningitis A through mass vaccination campaign will be jeopardized unless countries maintain a high level of protection by incorporating the meningitis A vaccine into their routine childhood immunization schedules.”

The vaccine does more than prevent the deadly meningitis A strain. A WHO study suggests “90 percent of people who received the vaccine still have the antibodies 5 years later.” Additionally, an added benefit is a protective boost against tetanus.

According to the WHO, more than 237 million people across 16 countries have been treated. However, 10 additional countries still need to implement the vaccination.

Alyson Atondo

Sources: UN 1, Columbia University, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, UN 2
Photo: Flickr, Pixabay

Recent research relates how a meningitis A vaccine can weather temperatures reaching 40º C, usable in environments such as Africa.

From trials in Benin, the vaccine, labeled MenAfriVac, can last for up to four days without being maintained in cold temperatures. Normally the meningitis A vaccine must be stored between temperatures of 2ºC to 8ºC. The trials included over 15,000 doses wherein only four MenAfriVacs were discarded due to overexposure beyond four days.

The “meningitis belt” stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia, reports Reuters, can now undergo vaccination campaigns at a much cheaper cost going from $0.24 to $0.12 per person, for which 70% of the population is normally treated. Since its introduction in 2011, 150 million units of MenAfriVac have been distributed to over twelve African nations.

MenAfriVac was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the nonprofit organization Path. Its manufacturing company is the Serum Institute of India.

But the inception of MenAfriVac without the cold chain disregards the requirement for electricity and storage units. This recent development also means that distribution does not have to be centered in urban districts and can be shipped to rural regions.

Moving forward, the development of a cold chain-less system paves the way for the same methods regarding vaccines for yellow fever and cholera. The rise of urban environments in Africa, in conjunction with lack of sanitary water sources, leads to a rise in Aedes aegypti, a breed of mosquitos that when given enclosed water containers produce yellow fever.

West Africa in particular has been most affected by outbreaks of yellow fever. Cholera outbreaks have also appeared from lack of clean water. In 2012, the World Health Organization reports that 48% of cholera outbreaks originated in Africa.

With all hands on deck for further development to combat cholera and yellow fever without the cold chain, it is the hope that greater regions afflicted by such epidemics will not only be distributed in a much cheaper fashion but also help to stymie further outbreaks.

– Miles Abadilla

Sources: All Africa, The Guardian, Reuters, WHO (GHO), WHO (GAR)
Photo: Global Pharma Sector