- 3:36 pm April 4, 2017
The Meningitis Outbreak – Did We Fail to See it Coming?
With the recent death toll at 328 across board in Nigeria, you wonder if we didn’t see this coming while still tackling Lassa fever on the side. This is not the first time we have had a Meningitis outbreak. In 1996, a record number of over 3,386 people died of meningitis in Nigeria. In 1998, the disease killed 11,717 of the 109,580 recorded cases (NCDC). The numbers did not dwindle, instead there have been more outbreaks happening in the country.
Nigeria is one of the countries sitting on the African meningitis belt. A group of countries in the semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa and is prone to outbreaks. Every year between December and June, sand storms combined with seasonal respiratory infections trigger outbreaks of meningitis. The bacteria are transmitted through respiratory secretions, such as sneezing or coughing, and direct contact with infected people.
In 2010, there was a mass vaccination campaign with the introduction of MenAfriVac® which had an immediate and dramatic impact in breaking the cycle of Meningitis A epidemics. This vaccine became a reality because of an experimental partnership between the World Health Organization and the not-for-profit health organisation, PATH. A kind of virtual pharmaceutical company was set up. The whole essence of this approach is that there is no permanent organisation, but a coalition of public and private partnerships forged afresh for each project, and tailored to its specific needs.
The final product, MenAfriVac, has proved effective, safe even for infants, thermostable without refrigeration, and is now being produced in India for just 40c a dose.
Map of Africa’s Meningitis Belt
The MenAfriVac vaccine being rolled out across the 26 nations of Africa’s meningitis belt over the course of seven years. Illustration: PATH/David Simpson.
MenAfriVac® was first introduced in 2011 in a mass vaccination campaign in Africa’s meningitis belt and to date, more than 150 million doses of MenAfriVac® have been used to vaccinate people across 12 African countries.
According to a report by WHO, the outbreak in Nigeria started on 19 January 2015 in Aliero, Local Government Area (LGA) of Kebbi State and the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified on 16 February 2015. The peculiarity of this recent outbreak is it is a new strain of N. meningitidis serogroup C (NmC) with each vaccine dose costing $50. The last outbreaks were caused mostly by Neisseria meningitidis serogroup A (NmA).
One of the reasons why MenAfriVac® was a success was its affordability. But with the Type C Vaccine dose costing so high, the chances of the outbreak ending anytime soon are slim except huge amount of funds are released immediately.
Considering Meningitis is a yearly occurrence, it would have been expected that our own research institute will be on top of their game researching and developing vaccines for diseases that should not be killing people in the 21st century.
The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) is allocated sums of money yearly in the budget but the question is how much of that money is used for research? Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the allocations to the NIMR from 2011 – 2017.
Outbreak is still ongoing. Story will be updated as data is released.