The risk of disease epidemics in Africa caused by meningococcal group C meningitis and septicaemia (MenC) is high, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The 26 countries that make up an area known as the ‘meningitis belt’ in sub-Saharan Africa are prone to large scale meningitis epidemics. Formerly these epidemics were caused by MenA but there has been huge progress in preventing MenA epidemics by immunising people in African countries against this type of meningitis.
A convergence of factors means that MenC now presents the largest risk of meningitis outbreaks in the region. MenC is circulating in the population and there is a shortage of MenC vaccine, which means that if there is an outbreak the ability to minimise the number of people affected will be severely limited.
In 2017 MenC affected 18,000 people in Nigeria and Niger. While the most recent season has seen MenC cases decrease, there were still 5000 suspected cases reported in Niger and Nigeria alone and WHO warn that it’s not uncommon for a relatively calm season to be followed by a huge epidemic.
Studies have found that people living in the meningitis belt countries have a low immunity against MenC. It is already circulating in neighbouring countries of the African meningitis belt (Burkina Faso, Mali, Cameroon) and it showed a potential to spread outside the belt as observed in Liberia in 2017.
The WHO is stating that urgent action is needed to prepare for the worst and minimise the potentially devastating impact of outbreaks in the region. WHO continues to call on technical and operational partners, vaccine manufacturers, and donors to act now to increase the availability of meningococcal vaccines that protect against MenC.
Find out more at: http://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/meningitis/meningitis-c-epidemic-risk/en/