Monday, December 06, 2010

Mass meningitis vaccination begins in West Africa

A mass vaccination is beginning West Africa to prevent against meningitis. The disease kills thousands of people a year on the continent. When a African family in poverty has to seek treatment for the disease, medical costs can take up three months of the family's annual income.

From this Associated Press article that we found at the Guardian, writer Brahima Ouedraogo details the vaccination campaign.

Meningitis, an infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, strikes more than 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. A new vaccine developed specifically for use on the continent was approved in June and is now being rolled out in three of the hardest-hit countries: Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Health officials have lauded the massive campaign, saying the vaccine could stop deadly outbreaks in the region before they even begin. In Burkina Faso alone, the World Health Organization said some 10,000 health workers will vaccinate 12 million people by the end of the year.

"This is a success story and it represents the development of a product that has taken 10 years to develop and we have been so excited because we'll be introducing the new vaccine for sub-Saharan Africa," said Dr. Marc Laforce, head of the Meningitis Vaccine Project.

The new meningitis vaccine is much cheaper than ones already available in rich countries: It costs less than 50 cents per unit compared to $10 to $100 for other vaccine doses. It also offers protection that lasts a decade, compared to three years for others.

The new vaccine is the result of a partnership that began in 2001 between the World Health Organization, the Serum Institute of India, and PATH, an international nonprofit funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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