Making meningitis a health priority
Meningitis remains a universal public health challenge in countries around the world. In 2016, the team at Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) reviewed the latest data and global health policies available for meningitis. We discovered that, unlike other diseases, such as polio and malaria, there was no coordinated effort to defeat meningitis and associated sepsis (which can be caused by the same bacteria). Despite some great successes, such as the introduction of meningitis vaccines in some parts of the world, meningitis was missing from critical global health strategies and not prioritised appropriately.
With meningitis claiming so many lives, particularly in children, MRF knew things had to change. World Health Organization estimates from 2015 showed that meningitis and neonatal sepsis together killed more children than malaria, measles and TB combined.
Other vaccine-preventable diseases (such as measles and tetanus) saw global rates drop by 70-90%, but meningitis is drastically behind, dropping just 53% between 1990 and 2017.
Image: MRF raises awareness of the need for action in the media.
Working with Wilton Park, MRF bought together meningitis experts, civil society, global health organisations, academics and people affected by the disease from around the globe, to develop a plan. As a charity providing support, we hear from families who live with the consequences of meningitis every day and we amplified their voice to drive change.
At the end of the meeting, the World Health Organization (WHO) committed to taking action that would help to:
- 1. Eliminate meningitis epidemics
- 2. Reduce cases and deaths from vaccine-preventable meningitis
- 3. Reduce disability and maximise the quality of life for people affected by meningitis
The report from the meeting called for a new plan for meningitis that inherits the success of the past two decades and looks to address the challenges to 2030.
The summit report: download in English
Le rapport du sommet:télécharger en françai
To take this forward, the WHO needed to hear from countries most affected by the disease. Following MRF's continued call for action and attendance at regional global health meetings, 200 representatives from 26 African countries gathered in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in September 2017 urging for the establishment of a global commitment and the implementation of urgent actions for equitable and sustainable access to meningitis vaccines.
In November 2017, the WHO began to set out its priorities for its next programme of work and consulted on topics to include. Meningitis had been missing from global health plans but, thanks to the success of the MRF and Wilton Park meeting, this was about to change. Outcomes from the meeting highlighted the need for progress in defeating meningitis. MRF also responded to the consultation to urge our partners and friends to write to the WHO too. Read our consultation response here.
The WHO recognised that meningitis was missing in their priorities and agreed to include a way of measuring progress against meningitis in their next programme of work.
Image: WHO responded to say they had heard the call for meningitis to be appropriately prioritised.
MRF and Wilton Park organised a three-day residential summit of leading experts in meningitis to start a process to create an action plan to 2030 aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (international goals set to secure a better future for all).
This unique opportunity encouraged discussion between senior health officials, policymakers, scientists and clinicians from countries affected by meningitis, as well as representatives from the WHO, UNICEF, PATH, Médecins Sans Frontières, CDC, the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, other global health organisations, patient groups and pharmaceutical companies.