What it is, why it matters and how to play your part
“My wife, Dee Dee, and I were talking about how we could get meningitis to be more well known around our region of the world and I remember saying to her, ‘we need to have something like a World Meningitis Day to raise awareness and give all of our organizations a tool to raise awareness in their regions of the world.’
We took that to our international meeting we were attending and everyone loved the idea. I was the U.S. regional manager at the time and was appointed the task of getting World Meningitis Day started. I worked in this capacity for the first few years and was so excited about the response we had across the globe. Today, I am still so impressed with how far it has come and so happy that it is a tool that meningitis organisations across the world are using to raise awareness.”
Bob Werner, co-founder of the Becky Werner Meningitis Foundation and coordinator of the very first World Meningitis Day
What is World Meningitis Day?
World Meningitis Day was started in 2009 by a community of people affected by meningitis. Today it has grown to be a global movement that brings together people from all over the world. Together they highlight the need to raise awareness of meningitis, its signs and symptoms, the vaccines that are available, and that it is an infection that needs global attention and effort to be defeated.
Every year, there are 2.5 million new cases of meningitis. Despite meningitis affecting so many lives, many people don’t know enough about it, or how to protect themselves and their loved ones. A lack of knowledge and limited support means it can also be isolating for people looking to rebuild their lives after meningitis. Seeking community is a very human response and one that offers connection, healing and the opportunity for meaningful change. It is out of this need for community that, in 2004, the first world conference of meningitis organisations was held. It led to the creation of the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO), the world’s first international network of meningitis organisations, with members ranging from healthcare professionals to meningitis survivors to bereaved family members.
From the first World Meningitis Day to today
In January 2009, CoMO met in London and set themselves a task: to coordinate the first World Meningitis Day. The aim was to bring together a global community of people affected by meningitis; to reach people with no knowledge of the disease; and to ensure no one learns about it for the first time when they are seriously ill with meningitis in an hospital.
The World Meningitis Day campaign has been coordinated by CoMO every year since 2009. MRF has supported it year-on-year and, since our two organisations have become one, we also now work with the CoMO central team to create the campaign. Our united aim is to reach a global audience, using the World Meningitis Day campaign website as the launch pad to share people’s experience of meningitis and life-saving information to prevent and defeat the disease.
The campaign wouldn’t be possible without CoMO’s 108 members in 49 countries across the world, who inform and guide what is in the campaign toolkit (available for anyone to use) and drive campaigning in their own countries. This year, we’re more excited than ever because the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Road Map to Defeat Meningitis by 2030 means World Meningitis Day is now supported by leading health organizations such as the US’ Centres for Disease Control and UNICEF, as part of a Road Map milestone to help drive awareness of meningitis as a health priority.
“Who could have imagined that 10 years after our first World Meningitis Day would evolve into an initiative supported by the WHO? So honoured to have been in London that day during our brainstorming session where we were looking for the best global strategy to raise awareness about meningitis.“
Elena Moya, Vice President of Asociación Española contra la Meningitis and CoMO member
In World Meningitis Day's first year, members' held events in five countries, holding photoshoots and being interviewed by media outlets. During last year's campaign, members in dozens of countries got involved, demonstrating incredible determination under challenging circumstances as COVID-19 still had its grip on people’s lives.
World Meningitis Day 2021 activities: Meningitis B Action Project (USA); Meningokockfonden (Sweden); Menenjit Bilgi Merkezi (Turkey Meningitis Information Centre); Concern Health Education Project (Ghana).
Why World Meningitis Day matters
Since the very first campaign, it has been incredible to see it grow. The growth of an awareness campaign is never a given; we live in a time where every day is an awareness day and there are so many important causes to care about. Despite this, there is a dedicated (and growing) community of people who agree we must defeat meningitis. Why? Because:
- 1. Meningitis is a global public health emergency
Meningitis and neonatal sepsis combined are estimated to be the 2nd largest known cause of epilepsy and the leading cause of severe intellectual disability worldwide. Bacterial meningitis kills 1 in 10 people who contract it.
2. Meningitis strikes quickly, leading little time to act
Bacterial meningitis is very aggressive; it develops rapidly and can kill in hours, leaving someone with little time to seek the treatment they need to survive.
3. Meningitis signs and symptoms can be easily confused with other illnesses such as malaria, flu and COVID-19.
The most important distinction between meningitis and diseases with similar-presenting symptoms is that meningitis causes a rapid deterioration in someone’s health. Someone with the flu can try and sleep it off, someone with meningitis needs urgent medical help.
The prevalence and severity of meningitis, along with the speed in which it develops, calls for a global outcry. If we work together, we can see meningitis defeated in many of our lifetimes.
The logo for this year’s campaign, with the theme “Let’s race to #DefeatMeningitis”. Download this and more from our toolkit, using your voice to tell others why defeating meningitis should be a global health priority.
How to be part of World Meningitis Day: taking action to defeat meningitis now
Every year, it’s amazing to see the outpouring of support from across the world for saving lives from meningitis. If you want to play your part in World Meningitis Day, there are simple ways you can get involved right now:
1. Learn more about it on the World Meningitis Day campaign website.
2. Spread the word by downloading any of our free resources, including adaptable social media images (in over a dozen languages), stickers for Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok, factsheets, email banner and more.
3. Tell your politician to support World Meningitis Day, using it to share life-saving information about meningitis signs and symptoms with their constituents.
4. Follow MRF or CoMO on social media, share our posts and use the World Meningitis Day toolkit to create your own using the hashtag: #WorldMeningitisDay2022 or #DefeatMeningitis.
Every action you take makes a difference so let’s make World Meningitis Day louder than ever.
CoMO members like Sarah Joyce share their meningitis story, to explain why defeating meningitis is so vital. Share Sarah’s story and the stories of others by downloading our toolkit.