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Celebrating in Africa: the end of the reign of meningitis

February 22, 2016 by Steve Davis

From Ethiopia to Senegal, celebrating the stunning success of MenAfriVac, the first vaccine designed specifically for Africa.

Young woman being vaccinated with MenAfriVac.

MenAfriVac is the culmination of nearly a decade of work by the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a partnership of PATH and the World Health Organization. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

This week in Ethiopia, African ministers of health, PATH, and other international organizations are celebrating a true achievement: meningitis A is nearly eliminated.

Epidemics of meningitis A swept across sub-Saharan Africa for more than a century, killing thousands of young people—sometimes within hours—and disabling thousands more. The strain of meningitis exists almost exclusively in Africa, and until 2010 no vaccine existed.

The World Health Organization and PATH formed an award-winning partnership model to rapidly develop and deploy a vaccine tailor-made for Africa. Other key collaborators included the Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd., the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Men in red and gold regalia flank a red carpet.

The red carpet was rolled out for the launch of the MenAfriVac vaccine, held in Burkina Faso in 2010. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

In a series of firsts, the MenAfriVac® vaccine:

  • Was developed in record time and at one-tenth the cost of most new vaccines.
  • Is the first vaccine ever developed specifically for Africa.
  • Also boosts the immune response against tetanus. Tetanus in newborns has dropped 25 percent in areas where the vaccine has been introduced.
Health workers opening cold chain containers full of vaccines at the launch of MenAfriVac.

Nurses at the ready to vaccinate hundreds of children in one swoop. Mass immunization campaigns have now been held in 16 countries. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Most importantly, everywhere the vaccine has been used, meningitis A has virtually disappeared.

More than 235 million people in 16 countries are now immunized, with 10 more countries planning campaigns this year. By 2020, the vaccine is expected to protect more than 400 million people and prevent:

  • 1 million cases of meningitis A,
  • 150,000 deaths, and
  • 250,000 cases of severe disability.
Child wearing a pink shirt standing next to empty chairs during the MenAfriVac meningitis vaccine launch.

Three-year-old Pitroipa Boukaré was one of the first children to be vaccinated against meningitis A. The shot stung for a minute, but she’s protected for a lifetime. Photo: PATH/Amy MacIver.

This stunning success shows that breaking the cycle of meningitis in Africa is possible. But vaccines are needed to protect the region from other forms of meningitis. PATH is now partnering with Serum Institute to develop a vaccine that would cover all of the disease-causing strains of meningitis in Africa.

Today, though, families in Africa are finally able to imagine a world without meningitis A. Join us in celebrating this milestone!

My thanks to our partners in Africa and around the world, our many supporters, and the talented PATH staff who contributed to this remarkable achievement.

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

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