BURKINA FASO: Meningitis vaccines approved for epidemic

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Burkina Faso is set to receive 3.3 million vaccines against bacterial meningitis to help stem an epidemic currently sweeping the country.

The International Coordination Group on Vaccine Provision for Epidemic Meningitis Control (ICG) approved Burkina Faso’s request for the vaccines on Tuesday, William Perea, the head of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) meningitis programme, told IRIN on Wednesday.

He said the vaccines would arrive in the country in the coming week.

The ICG already delivered 530,000 doses of vaccines after the government made a request on 16 February. It requested another 1.2 million vaccines on Monday, but Perea said that request was modified to 3.3 million doses after reports that the outbreak had hit the capital, Ouagadougou.

The epidemic in Burkina Faso has claimed 432 lives among 4,958 cases. Other African countries are also in the midst of epidemics, including Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other countries with outbreaks include Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Mali, Benin, Ghana, Togo and Guinea.

Perea said Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) and WHO have stepped in to provide some of the funding for the vaccines destined for Burkina Faso, but money was still needed to pay for about one million of the vaccines as well as the operational costs of delivering them.

WHO helped establish the ICG to ensure rapid and equal access to low-cost vaccines and medicine to treat meningitis after major outbreaks in 1995 and 1996. The ICG is managed by WHO, MSF, UNICEF and the International Federation of the Red Cross. Other agencies provide expertise and technical advice.

The ICG provides vaccines prior to payment. Governments purchase the polysaccharide A and C vaccines currently being used in Africa at about 66 US cents per dose. The same vaccines purchased on the open market at pharmacies in Burkina Faso and other African countries can cost the equivalent of $14 or more, far more than most Africans can afford.

For some strains of meningitis no vaccine is available.

To receive vaccines from ICG, Perea said a country must provide evidence that an outbreak is ongoing and that a given district has crossed the epidemic threshold. It must also convey the number of people at risk, the age distribution and the size of the population. Then a laboratory must confirm the strain of the epidemic, Perea said.

“We have received all that from Burkina Faso,” he said. “[The country] is very good at providing epidemiological data.”

West Africa’s semi-arid Sahelian countries, sometimes referred to as the “meningitis belt” are hit each year by outbreaks of bacterial meningitis during the dry seasons between December and June. Dust-laden winds along with cold nights combine to lower people’s immunity to respiratory tract infections, which makes it easier to transmit and contract meningitis.

“As soon as the rain starts the whole thing fades away,” Perea said.

Typically, five to 10 percent of meningitis patients die within 24 to 48 hours of the first symptoms, while 10 to 20 percent of survivors suffer brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
See Also