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Meningitis Epidemic Down Thanks To Custom-Made Vaccine

Dorathy Gass

Africa’s meningitis epidemic has decreased significantly in only five years, thanks to a tailor-made vaccination created by a group of global partners. Named the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), scientists, drug makers, and funders, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gathered to create a shot specifically for meningitis, and the African communities that it was afflicting. The vaccination, which is being called MenAfriVac, was tested and released rather quickly, and the success of the project is being viewed as a best practise for potentially targeting diseases in developing countries, including Ebola.

“We have not seen a single case among vaccinated populations …,” said Marie Pierre-Preziosi, MVP’s director, “and transmission has stopped.”

Costing only $0.50 cents USD for each vaccination, the shot is produced by a company called the Serum Institute of India. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently decided that MenAfriVac be used as part of routine healthcare practises in Africa. The end result has meant thousands of lives saved, and a significant decrease in meningitis cases.

A deadly virus that causes inflammation on the lining of an individual’s brain and spinal cord, Meningococcal meningitis can have serious implications, including brain damage, hearing loss, epilepsy, and death. Outbreaks swept throughout Africa in 1996-1997, as well as in 2008-2009, targeting regions that span from Senegal to Ethiopia: resulting in over 306,000 ‘A’ strain meningitis cases. Once MenAfriVac was created and distributed in 2010, there have been rare signs of the disease.

Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, director of the WHO’s immunisation department, referred to the MenAfriVac a “stunning success”.

Prior to the introduction of the vaccine, African leaders were pleading with world health experts to create an affordable shot that could target the disease that was claiming so many lives across the country.

“African health officials told us: ‘Don’t come with a vaccine we cannot afford, because that would not be a solution’,” Pierre-Preziosi said.

Focusing on creating something quickly, MVP conducted research to develop a vaccination, and found a cost-effective drug maker, Serum Institute of India, to produce the shot. The first custom-made vaccine, one of its attributes includes the limited need for continual refrigeration; which helps tremendously with delivery of the treatment across Africa’s dry and hot climate.

To date, MenAfriVac has been given to 215 million people across Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Togo and Gambia.

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