There is new hope for Africa in the fight against Meningitis as health experts from across the world have pledged to ensure that the killer disease is eliminated from the ‘meningitis belt’ in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
According to a press release on Monday by the World Health Organisation, the experts made the pledge at a meeting organised by Meningitis Research Foundation, MRF, Willton Park, and WHO.
The three-day meeting highlighted the urgent need for a global meningitis vision and strategy as the dreaded disease has caused the death of many people, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria.
Nigeria experiences a meningitis outbreak every year. However, the latest one which stated last year, lasted seven months, from November to June, killing 1,166 people before it was official declared over on June 29.
A high death toll was recorded in the outbreak because of lack of vaccine in the country to prevent the outbreak as the strain of the endemic was not the common one in the country.
Nigeria had to depend on international donors for vaccines to combat the new strain, Meningitis C which ravaged 25 states in the country. Before then, it used to experience the Meningitis A and B strains.
At the global meeting, WHO recognized its role in meningitis prevention over the last decade and announced plans to bring together global expertise to develop a road map for eliminating the disease from the Meningitis belt in sub-Saharan African countries by 2030.
The sub-Saharan African Meningitis belt comprises 26 countries, stretching from Senegal in West Africa to Ethiopia in the East.
According to WHO, the intent is to also work with partners, including MRF, in a bid to extend the scope to other countries around the world, and to help tackle the many different causes of meningitis.
It is estimated that around half a million children under five still die of meningitis and septicaemia worldwide every year.
The meeting enabled discussion among 50 global experts on shaping a vision towards defeating meningitis and septicaemia. At the meeting were, senior health officials, policy makers, scientists and clinicians from countries affected by meningitis.
There were also representatives from WHO, UNICEF, PATH, Médecins Sans Frontières, CDC, Gavi Vaccine Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other global health organisations, patient groups and pharmaceutical companies.
The Chief Executive, Meningitis Research Foundation, Vinny Smith, said meningitis travels around the world and has no respect for country borders.
“For example, the new deadly strain of MenW in the UK travelled from South America,” he said.
“We called for this important meeting because no matter where we live, meningitis will only be defeated with coordinated global action. We are delighted to hear WHO’s new priorities to eliminate epidemics where they have the highest burden and we look forward to working with them to discuss plans for all main types of meningitis and the rest of the world too,” he said.
A world leading expert in meningitis and malaria over the past 40 years, Brian Greenwood, who opened the meeting, said as Meningitis is a multifaceted problem, a multidisciplinary approach is needed to combat it.
“We need a global plan for meningitis through to 2030, along the lines of the existing Malaria Technical Action Plan that was ratified by the World Health Assembly.
“Meningitis needs to be pushed up the agenda at every level and now is the time to do it. A global effort against meningitis and septicaemia will contribute towards delivering the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals and their inclusion of ‘affordable vaccines and medicines for all”.
The WHO representative, Marie-Pierre Preziosi, announced that the agency will answer the call by putting meningitis high on the global agenda and coordinating progress in five areas.
The focus would be to work on eliminating epidemic meningitis from the meningitis belt and examining the potential for a more global agenda as identified by the meeting, she said.
She said there has been major progress towards the elimination of epidemic meningitis “but we need incredible perseverance to take it to a sustainable level.
“WHO will provide coordination and leadership to develop a multicomponent road map with partners that aims to sustainably eliminate epidemic meningococcal meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
“We understand that putting meningitis high on the global agenda, setting a global vision and strategy, and working at the interface between many disciplines could be a very powerful incentive to reach the next level of disease control to transform our world and leave no one behind by 2030”, Ms. Preziosi said.