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Why Ida stood in line for vaccine

April 20, 2012 by PATH

It’s one thing for us to tell you immunization is a lifesaver. It’s another to hear Ida Tapsoba talk about its value.

Woman in orange shirt with baby strapped to her lower back.

Burkina Faso welcomed MenAfriVac with a literal red carpet. Thousands of mothers brought their children to be vaccinated on the first day. Ida Tapsoba was one of them. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Over the years we’ve heard countless stories about how vaccines have changed lives and brought new hope to communities. And we’ve eagerly shared those stories with you. But it’s one thing for us to tell you vaccination is a lifesaver; it’s another to hear it directly from the people whose lives vaccination has saved.

A “big problem”

We met Ida during Burkina Faso’s 2010 vaccination campaign against meningococcal A meningitis. She was standing in line to get immunized at a village health center, her 13-month-old daughter wrapped tight to her back with a colorful piece of cloth.

Getting meningitis, an infection of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is a big problem, Ida told us as she waited for her shot.

It’s a problem because treating a sick child can consume a third of a family’s disposable income; because even survivors are at risk of serious disabilities like brain damage and hearing loss; because one in ten people who get the disease die, typically within a day or two of falling sick.

Who will vaccines save tomorrow? See our video.

To find a lifesaver

More than 25,000 people died and more than 250,000 were sickened when the largest meningitis A epidemic ever recorded spread through sub-Saharan Africa in 1996 and 1997. That horrific toll eventually led to the formation of the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a collaboration between PATH and the World Health Organization.

In less than a decade, MVP developed and delivered a vaccine against meningitis A. Called MenAfriVac®, the vaccine was designed specifically for Africa at a price resource-strapped health systems could afford: less than US$.50 a dose. Unlike past vaccines that were used after epidemics had already emerged, MenAfriVac® can be delivered outside of the cold chain, promotes herd immunity, and provides relatively long-term protection.

To date, more than 280 million people have received the vaccine. Eventually, MenAfriVac® will reach some 400 million people in Africa’s “meningitis belt” and potentially end the spread of group A meningitis there forever. It is already on its. Meningitis A has virtually disappeared wherever the vaccine has been used.

“Eventually, MenAfriVac® will reach some 400 million people in Africa’s “meningitis belt” and potentially end the spread of group A meningitis there forever.”

A somber listing

Everyone standing in that line had stories that underscored the importance of immunization. Everyone knew someone sickened by meningitis. A friend killed at age 17. An aunt who survived, but who is now deaf. A sister’s 10-year-old boy, dead. A little brother, taken at age 7.

For Ida, it was her own baby boy, taken ill when he was just a year old. Ida shuddered at the memory. The sickness lasted three days. But on the fourth day, her son improved, and he survived.

When Ida reached the head of the line, when she and her daughter were about to be vaccinated—Ida smiled.

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

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