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Baby sitting on hospital bed, looking up.

This breakthrough creates an affordable solution for millions of people who live in fear of the annual, dangerous epidemics. Photo: PATH/Monique Berlier.

Africa needed an affordable vaccine that would offer long-lasting protection against meningitis A

In the past, when epidemics struck the meningitis belt, countries implemented reactive immunization campaigns using a polysaccharide vaccine to control outbreaks. While the polysaccharide vaccine does prevent meningitis, it has limited impact: it provides protection for only two to three years, does not protect infants from the disease, and does not block the transmission of meningococcal bacteria to people who have not been vaccinated. Additionally, the vaccine is in limited supply, and it’s often hard to predict when and how much vaccine will be needed to coincide with an epidemic. As a result, limited quantities of vaccines often arrive too late to do much good.

A factor of economics

Research shows that conjugate vaccines work better than polysaccharide vaccines and provide better protection in the long run. Conjugate vaccines have already nearly wiped out group C meningitis in Canada, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, and other developed countries since vaccine manufacturers brought the vaccines to market in 1999.

But achieving the same results in Africa, where thousands more people are stricken with meningitis A every year, has largely been a factor of economics. Group A meningococcal disease is virtually nonexistent in industrialized countries, and multinational vaccine manufacturers have largely concentrated on developing products for developed-world markets. As a result, no Africa-specific meningococcal vaccines had been developed until PATH and World Health Organization partnered to create the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP).

The MVP solution

The MVP team developed an innovative model to bring an effective conjugate vaccine to fruition by centering its strategy on the public health problem in sub-Saharan Africa. “The project has always been driven by the public health need,” says MVP director Dr. Marc LaForce.

The vaccine had to specifically address sub-Saharan Africa’s unique need for long-lasting and widespread protection against group A meningococci, and it had to be affordable for the African countries where it would be used. It would have little commercial value outside of Africa.

The MVP team identified a new method for making the vaccine through a partnership with the US Food and Drug Administration and was able to transfer the technology at essentially no cost to the Serum Institute of India Ltd., an Indian vaccine manufacturing company, that then produced the vaccine at a cost of less than US$0.50 per dose.

This breakthrough creates an affordable solution for the millions of people who live in fear of the annual dangerous and deadly group A meningococcal epidemics. It will prevent a disease that has plagued the region for 100 years, thus protecting and enhancing the health and lives of African families and communities for years to come.

Next Map of Africa’s meningitis belt