Meningitis is a potentially fatal illness—especially in developing countries—but a new vaccine has just been released that is now on a full sweep through West Africa, helping to prevent massive epidemics and allow vital public health resources to be funneled into other areas. Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali are the first to receive nationwide vaccination drives in December, countries chosen for their high meningitis rates and their relative ability to implement vaccination campaigns.
Whereas previous vaccines only prevented the disease for up to to two or three years, this new vaccine protects children for up to 10 years. In Africa alone, over 88,000 people get the disease every year, resulting in over 4,000 deaths.
“This vaccine, which targets the bacterium [meningococcus A] most frequently causing epidemics, is about preventing epidemics, not waiting, then reacting,” said Mamoudou Harouna Djingarey of the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) in an IRIN report. Rather than waiting for the disease to hit and potentially turn into a widespread outbreak, it is in the interest of saving lives, as the field of public health often stresses, to prevent outbreaks rather than focus on treatment.
We wrote previously about India's role in the global pharmaceutical market and how its supply of generic, life-saving drugs is literally a lifeline supply to dozens of other countries, especially poor countries. Well this new vaccine—"called the meningococcal A conjugate vaccine"—is also a product of India, further signifying India's role on the global public health stage.
Referring to the vaccine, “This will allow countries to avoid huge meningitis A epidemics and save their resources for other public health needs,” said Djingarey.
[Image: flickr user hdtpcar]