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Amadou Dipama, holding his bullhorn.

As a town crier, Amadou François Dipama announces everything from dances to immunization campaigns. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

In Burkina Faso’s villages, town criers carry MenAfriVac’s® message

Amadou François Dipama is a town crier. Every day between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., he steadily traverses the village streets of Saaba, Burkina Faso, by bike or foot, doing the local version of the evening news.

For a small fee, Amadou will raise his bullhorn to his weathered lips, flip the switch, and, after a punishing blast of feedback, declaim items of interest to the people of Saaba. He might announce a show, a dance, or a community meeting. He might talk about meningitis A, a bacterial infection of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord that kills one in ten who are infected.

During the 2010 dry season, the words Amadou repeated nearly every day were straightforward: all of the young people should go get the new meningitis A vaccine.

The lure of a new vaccine

In December of that year, Burkina Faso became the first country to introduce MenAfriVac®, a new vaccine developed specifically for the “meningitis belt” of Africa by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a collaboration between PATH and the World Health Organization. The vaccine targets meningococcal A meningitis, the form of the disease that for a century has swept across 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in epidemic waves, leaving illness, hearing loss, and death in its wake.

Village residents lined up under trees.

In line for vaccine in Saaba. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

MVP developed the vaccine not only to target the specific group of bacteria that causes epidemics in Africa, but also to be affordable for resource-strapped health systems in the region. Each dose of MenAfriVac costs less than US$0.50.

Once the vaccine was ready, work turned to making sure it reached those who needed it.

Getting the word out

To publicize Burkina Faso’s campaign to vaccinate everyone between the ages of 1 and 29 with MenAfriVac, public health officials used modern techniques, such as television and radio announcements. Posters advertising the campaign’s dates were taped to health center walls and vehicles. Some health workers wore ball caps with the campaign’s logo. Others went house to house to make sure their neighbors knew that the vaccine had arrived. And Amadou and his colleagues set out with their megaphones.

Whatever they used  in Saaba, it worked. People lined up early in the morning, in their hands the bright white cartes de vaccination that are updated each time they receive a dose of vaccine.

“No one has said no”

In the area where Amadou brings the news each night, nurse Boubacar Sawadogo reported that more than three-quarters of the people ages 1 to 29 came to get their vaccination during the first three days of the 2010 vaccination campaign. That’s much better, he said, then the rates for vaccination against some other diseases.

“For this vaccine, no one has said no,” Boubacar said. “People are all for it. They know [meningitis] is a serious disease.”

MenAfriVac is a registered trademark of Serum Institute of India Ltd.