UN health agency kicks off meningitis vaccination drive in Africa
Over 50 million children in Kenya and other African countries are unvaccinated against meningitis due to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic-increasing the risk of future outbreaks of meningitis type A, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The pandemic severely disrupted meningitis prevention and control services, with disease surveillance, laboratory confirmation of cases and outbreak investigations all steeply declining.
The WHO has now launched a new roadmap towards stopping bacterial meningitis outbreaks by 2030, urging countries to implement it quickly before the start of the meningitis season in January 2023.
The new regional strategy launched sets out a roadmap for countries to shore up diagnosis, surveillance, care, advocacy and vaccination to eliminate outbreaks, curb deaths by 70 percent and halve infections.
WHO estimates that Sh180 billion will be required between now and 2030 to implement the plan, which if countries fully adopt will save more than 140,000 lives every year in the region and significantly reduce disability.
Based on reports from countries, WHO found that meningitis control activities were reduced by 50pc in 2020 compared with 2019, with a slight improvement in 2021 due to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic.
Historically, meningitis type A was the highest cause of meningitis outbreaks in Africa. A vaccine against the disease was introduced in 2010 helping to curb and control disease outbreak.
“The defeat of meningitis type A is of one of Africa’s biggest success stories in health, but the fallout from Covid-19 hampers our drive to eliminate this bacterial infection as a public health threat once and for all, and could lead to catastrophic resurgences,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti (pictured), WHO Regional Director for Africa. According to Dr Moeti, in prioritizing the response to Covid-19, countries must not lose our focus on other health problems.
Nations need to ramp up implementation of the new WHO regional roadmap now, before the meningitis season begins in January 2023.
According to WHO, while meningitis type A accounted for 90pc of cases and deaths before 2010, no new cases have been reported since 2017.
Controlling this lethal form of meningitis has led to fewer deaths from meningitis type A and other types of microorganisms.