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This new vaccine could stop meningitis A in its tracks

June 12, 2013 by PATH

Africa is finally able to imagine a world without meningitis, thanks to an innovative vaccine.

The MenAfriVac® vaccine was the first in history to be designed specifically for Africa. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

The MenAfriVac® vaccine was the first in history to be designed specifically for Africa. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

It's been called "a stunning success" by the Oxford Academic.

For more than a century, meningitis swept across sub-Saharan Africa on dusty winds with unstoppable force. With each epidemic, the disease decimated communities, killing one in ten people who were sickened and leaving one-quarter of survivors severely debilitated. Mothers desperately awaited the seasonal “rains of hope” to wash away the disease for another year.

But thanks to a new model for vaccine development, a coalition of partners, including PATH, has stopped deadly meningitis A epidemics in their tracks.

In December 2010, young people across Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger became the first to receive the MenAfriVac® vaccine, which was developed specifically to protect from meningococcal A meningitis, the strain most destructive to communities in Africa’s meningitis belt. By 2016, more than 270 million people had received the vaccine in mass campaigns in 26 countries. Meningitis A was becoming a thing of the past.

Igniting the idea

A meningitis outbreak in 1996 infected over 250,000 people and killed over 25,000, igniting a call for help from African ministers of health. It took a new model of vaccine development to overcome the financial and technical hurdles of the crisis, but with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Meningitis Vaccine Project was formed. The unique partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization led to the development, testing, licensure, and widespread introduction of an affordable conjugate vaccine.

The MenAfriVac® vaccine signifies many milestones for the region: For the first time in history, a vaccine was specifically designed for Africa. This is also the first vaccine ever introduced in Africa before reaching any other continent, and it was developed at one-tenth the cost of a typical vaccine.

Elimination in reach

The remarkable success of MenAfriVac® shows that breaking the cycle of meningitis in Africa is possible. But additional, low-cost vaccines are needed to protect the region from other forms of meningitis that continue to cause illness and death. PATH is now partnering with Serum Institute to develop a vaccine that would cover all of the disease-causing strains of meningitis in Africa.

Africa is finally able to imagine a world without meningitis. Completing the prevention toolkit is key to eliminating meningitis once and for all.

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