BURKINA FASO: Meningitis infections spreading

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Epidemic levels of the bacterial infection meningitis have now reached two districts in Burkina Faso, Gaoua in the southwest, 30 km from the Ghana border, and Mandogara, just 20 km from the Cote d’Ivoire border, making it likely the epidemic in Burkina Faso is being boosted by infected people entering from neighbouring countries, experts warn.

“Now we are faced with a problem. If we vaccinate the populations in Burkina we may have to also vaccinate unexpected populations from across the borders, so we [may] be short of vaccines, or the protection will not be effective,” Jean Gabriel Wango, the secretary general of the Health Ministry told IRIN.

Souleymane Sanou, director general at the Ministry of Health, has estimated 5 million people are now at risk across 20 health districts in Burkina Faso.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in October 2007 that 80 million people out of roughly 350 million who live in 21 African countries stretching from Ethiopia in the east to Mauritania in the west might need to be vaccinated against the bacterium this year.

With 267 people in Burkina Faso contracting the illness in the first week of February, compared to 254 the previous week, the number of infected people has increased, but the number of deaths in the same period has lowered from 39 to 25.

According to Wango this is due to “better case management” and the patients being sent quickly to health centres.

“We are following with the greatest attention the evolution of the epidemic,'' Wango told IRIN. “We have taken into account WHO warnings about risks of resurgence of meningitis epidemics this season.”

WHO has been asked to approach the ministry of health on the Ivorian side to conduct a joint response, according to Wango.

The Burkina Faso government currently has a stock of 1.67 million vaccine doses which it is using to target the epidemics in Gaoua and Mandogara.

But to get hold of more, it must go through the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision for Epidemic Meningitis Control, which was set up following a major outbreak in 1995, to help ensure the limited vaccines are used where they are most needed.

Between 1995 and 1997 a meningitis outbreak across the West Africa region killed 25,000 people and affected 250,000.

The meningitis bacterium, which usually reaches epidemic levels in the region between December and May, could be especially severe this year, health forecasters have warned, as the region is heading toward the peak of a 10- to 12-year cycle of meningitis crises.

Meningitis is an infection of the thin lining around the brain and spinal cord. Even when it is diagnosed early and adequate therapy is available, between 5 and 10 percent of patients die.

Source: IRIN