Care for a child with meningitis can cost nearly everything a family owns. Photo: PATH/Monique Berlier.
Sometimes they sacrificed everything
What family wouldn’t do whatever they could to help a sick child? In sub-Saharan Africa, mothers and fathers were forced to think about this every year as outbreaks of meningitis A began. They sacrificed everything to pay for treatment and fight for their children’s lives.
In 2007, the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) asked l'Association de Médecine Préventive to conduct a detailed socioeconomic study in Burkina Faso to understand the cost of a meningitis epidemic on the community. They found that a single case of meningitis cost a family US$90—about three to four months of the family’s disposable income. The cost reflects medicines, nursing care, transportation to health services, lost wages, and other direct and indirect costs.
“For a poor family, this new expense simply cycles them further down into yet a lower level of poverty,” said Dr. Marc LaForce, former MVP director.
“The last thing you sell when times are bad is the front door.”
It takes families years to work their way out of this extreme poverty. To pay for needed treatment, families sold whatever they could—their chickens, their cows, other tools of their livelihood. The most desperate would even sell their front doors, a sign that they had truly lost everything.
“For an African family, a front door is very important because it’s what you build your house around,” explained LaForce. Often carved or painted, the doors are unique and personal to every family. “The last thing you sell when times are bad is the front door,” LaForce said. “And you only have to see that once or twice for such an event to make a terrible impact on you, to see how bad it really is.”