Meningitis is a globally important disease, especially for children under five. Many of the major bacterial pathogens that cause meningitis also cause sepsis. They can occur together or separately and can be very difficult to distinguish.
According to the United Nations 2017 Levels and Trends in Child Mortality Report, meningitis and neonatal sepsis are together the second biggest infectious killer of under-fives globally. However, progress in tackling meningitis lags behind that of other infectious diseases, according to an analysis published in the scientific journal The Lancet Neurology
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goal to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age will not be possible without a concerted effort to defeat meningitis. Access to accurate data that tell the full story of meningitis will help national governments and inter-governmental institutions, such as the agencies of the United Nations, to create informed health strategies and monitor their success.
Currently, we know that data on the global meningitis burden are hard to interpret. This is due in part to there being multiple causes of the disease, and because the data come from many different sources. With the Meningitis Progress Tracker we will be able to track national and global progress toward defeating the disease. For the first time, we will bring together ‘the story of meningitis’ into one place.
Why this matters:
Meningitis and neonatal sepsis kill more children than malaria, measles and TB combined. In 2016 (all ages) there were estimated to be over 500,000 deaths.
Meningitis and neonatal sepsis are rarely listed as health priorities in major global health strategies and frameworks. This absence influences the priority that countries place on addressing the disease, budgets they allocate to it, and the wider funding available to them for this work. As a result, progress towards defeating meningitis has been slow – whilst death rates due to meningitis in the under 5s are estimated to have dropped globally by 53% from 1990 to 2017, those for measles, tetanus and diarrhoea have dropped by 87%, 93% and 70% respectively..
As an example, over the last decade, MenAfriVac™, a vaccine developed for use against the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa (meningococcal group A, or MenA), has had incredible success at reducing the cases of MenA in that part of the world. However, a focus on individual pathogens rather than the collective story of these different causes has diluted the wider message about the global burden of the disease.
This is why The World Health Organization (WHO) has set up a technical taskforce which, by 2020, will co-ordinate the development of a global roadmap to defeat meningitis by 2030. As a member of the taskforce, Meningitis Research Foundation has worked with WHO and other partners to develop a baseline analysis against which the progress of the roadmap can be tracked. This includes a global burden baseline analysis to consider which estimates of burden should be monitored between now and 2030. The Meningitis Progress Tracker will be used by the WHO technical taskforce to track global progress against defeating meningitis. It will also be used by government health ministries, researchers and academics, civil society organisations and patient groups, as well as anyone else with an interest in understanding the disease.
What we want to do:
Between 2018 and 2020 we will develop the MRF website to bring existing available data together into one place. The Meningitis Progress Tracker will become the location of choice for anyone looking to easily access the most up-to-date global information on meningitis. Once created, it can be used to track the progress made towards tackling meningitis around the world.
We will first focus on the causes of meningitis that are the most life-threatening and have the greatest likelihood of life-changing impact for survivors. This means looking at bacterial causes of meningitis: the meningococcus, the pneumococcus, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) and Group B Streptococcus (GBS).
Users of the Meningitis Progress Tracker will be able to interact with the site to create the visualisations most relevant to them. By selecting a number of parameters, powerful yet simple infographics (visualisations) will show country and global estimates, as well as trends over time, and will highlight differences between existing modelled estimates and local surveillance data (based on in-country reported cases). We will also be able to show meningitis vaccine schedules and coverage by country, and signpost users to latest research.