Posted by Gill Currie on 31 July 2014
Despite improved treatments and continuing raised awareness over the years, meningitis and septicaemia are still affecting families around the world. The only way to reach the goal of a world free from meningitis will be through prevention and vaccination.
There have been many successful vaccines against meningitis introduced around the world, but one of the greatest vaccine success stories has been in Africa, where poor healthcare and lack of resources such as drugs and medical equipment mean that prevention through vaccination is even more vital. A certain area of Africa known as the ‘meningitis belt’ has historically also been prone to epidemics of meningitis caused by meningococcal A bacteria (MenA), having a huge impact on communities during each dry season when meningitis bacteria can spread particularly quickly.
The introduction of a MenA vaccine (MenAfriVac) into this ‘meningitis belt’ area from 2010 has seen mass vaccination of over 100 million people in 10 African countries.
The MenAfriVac vaccine was developed by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a collaboration between international health organizations WHO and PATH and with funding from the Gates Foundation.
Burkina Faso was one of the first countries to start an immunization campaign in 2010, immunizing all 1-29 year olds in just 6 weeks. Within one year, the rate of disease had dropped to its lowest for 15 years, no local outbreaks were reported and no case of MenA disease had been detected.
The story in Chad has been similarly impressive with a recent paper showing that after vaccination in 2011, meningitis rates were dramatically lower during the 2012 epidemic season than in previous years.
In the UK, there have also been success stories, in particular MenC introduction in 1999, which resulted in a huge drop in the number of MenC meningitis cases in the early 2000’s. However, not only is the vaccine good at preventing disease in those who are vaccinated but it also provides a large amount of herd immunity, protecting those who can't be immunised or who are outside the age range for vaccination.
Prevention of meningitis has always been one of Meningitis Research Foundation's main priorities and since 1989 we have funded almost £8M into research on vaccination and prevention around the world, from evaluating existing vaccines to studying new vaccine candidates and providing evidence for new vaccines to be introduced.
In our 25th year, it is really good to see the progress that has been made. But this isn't the end of the story and there are still cases of meningitis that are unpreventable. Therefore not only are we determined to continue to fund research into prevention of meningitis, but we are also building on our experience of improving recognition and treatment of disease so that people are aware of the importance of signs and symptoms and getting treatment quickly.
Awareness raising and maintaining knowledge amongst health professionals will be as important as ever while new vaccines are introduced in the UK. But meningitis is a global disease and in the developing world, awareness of meningitis is not as high as in the UK. Even if parents recognise how ill their child is, local health clinics are ill prepared to see how quickly they might deteriorate and treat them quickly.
To start tackling this issue, our Action Meningitis project in Malawi is raising awareness of the signs and symptoms in local communities and training healthcare workers to recognise very sick children at the local clinics. Although the media and the way of working is different to that of the UK (radio and theatre rather than leaflets and tv ads) the concept of the importance of signs and symptoms is the same.
Universal prevention of disease still needs to be the ultimate goal, but until then, quick recognition and treatment are vital for saving lives. With the help of our members and supporters we will continue our work in the UK and around the world, funding research, educating health professionals, raising awareness and supporting those affected. In our 25th year, our vision remains the same – “a world free from meningitis”.
- Novak, R.T., et al., Serogroup A meningococcal conjugate vaccination in Burkina Faso: analysis of national surveillance data. Lancet Infect Dis, 2012. 12(10): p. 757-64.
- Daugla, D.M., et al., Effect of a serogroup A meningococcal conjugate vaccine (PsA-TT) on serogroup A meningococcal meningitis and carriage in Chad: a community study [corrected]. Lancet, 2014. 383(9911): p. 40-7.
- 3. Campbell, H., et al., Meningococcal C conjugate vaccine: The experience in England and Wales. Vaccine, 2009. 27(Supplement 2): p. B20-B29.