COTE D'IVOIRE: Meningitis outbreak reported

Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Health authorities in Côte d’Ivoire have reported an outbreak of meningitis in the north of the country where health infrastructure has deteriorated during a more than four-year political impasse that has divided the country.

Thirty-six cases of bacterial meningitis, including six deaths, had been reported at the regional hospital in the city of Bouaké as of 5 February, according to the United Nations humanitarian coordination office (OCHA).

“We confirm that there are cases of meningitis in Bouaké,” said Souleymane Kone, spokesman for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Côte d’Ivoire. “Also, in partnership with the Ivorian Health Ministry, we are pursuing investigations in other health facilities in Bouaké to see if there are other cases.”

A vaccination campaign is being prepared for the region of Savanes and some districts in the region of Bouaké, 350km north of the main city, Abidjan, according to the Health Ministry.

Although Côte d'Ivoire has been divided between a goverment-run south and rebel-held north since a brief civil war in 2002, the Health Ministry is working with WHO in Bouaké, which is the rebel stonghold, without hindrance.

Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord. Treatment with antibiotics must begin immediately. Survivors of the illness can suffer hearing loss, brain damage or lose limbs.

The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) reported the year’s first cases of meningitis in mid-January in the extreme north and northeast of the country in the regions of Boundiali and Odienné. Seven cases were registered, including one death. UNICEF recommended mass vaccinations.

Available vaccines for meningitis do not work well on children under the age of two. Infants are most at risk of contracting the illness, which spreads more efficiently in the windy, cooler, dry season when people are more susceptible to colds and flu.

The dry season typically runs from January through June. Côte d’Ivoire is in what is known as the “meningitis belt” that extends from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east.

Eighty-three cases of meningitis, including 20 deaths, were reported for all of 2006 in Côte d’Ivoire.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
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