Jennifer Lazuta for VOA news – WNN Science & Health
(WNN/VOA) Dakar, CHAD, MIDDLE AFRICA: A study published this month in the Lancet medical journal found a new meningitis vaccine being used in Chad reduced the incidence of the disease by 94 percent. According to the World Health Organization, meningitis affects nearly half a billion people living in sub-Saharan Africa each year and, even with proper treatment, is often deadly.
Researchers say the first meningitis vaccine developed specifically for Africa has “dramatically reduced” the number of cases of the disease in Chad, as well as prevented its spread.
Dr. James Stuart, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a co-author of the study, said his team looked at the effects of what is known as MenAfriVac on 1.8 million people under the age of 29 across three regions in Chad during the 2012 meningitis epidemic.
“What we found was that the number of cases dropped dramatically in the part of the country that was vaccinated and that the meningitis epidemic continued in the part of the country that had not been vaccinated,” Stuart said. “So this, although it was not a trial, suggested that the vaccine had a very positive effect on protecting people against meningitis.”
Stuart said MenAfriVac, which targets the type-A strain of the disease, completely prevented type A in all of the vaccinated regions. It also reduced the incidence of all types of meningitis.
According to the World Health Organization, more than one million cases of meningitis, which is the inflammation of the protective tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord, have been reported in Africa since 1988.
The highest incidence of the disease occurs in what is known as the “meningitis belt” of sub-Saharan Africa, a strip of 25 countries stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east.
No other meningitis vaccines have proven to be as effective as MenAfriVac, Stuart said.
“The new vaccine seems to stop people carrying the germ and it stops it therefore from being transmitted, whereas the old vaccine did not have an effect on carriage, so it did not stop the germ being transmitted between people,” he said. “So this new vaccine therefore has a double effect. One is that it gives you a good individual protection against meningitis, and at the same time, it is actually stopping transmission, so it is actually preventing other people from getting meningitis as well.”
Stuart said that such prevention is key when it comes to meningitis, as the disease can spread quickly, passing from person to person via bacteria that live in the throat. Outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa are common and have killed as many as 25,000 people at a time.
While this particular vaccine is not new, it was licensed in India in 2009 and introduced in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in December 2010, this was the first time researchers were able to test its effectiveness.
The World Health Organization says antibiotics are available as treatment, but meningitis can lead to serious health problems once contracted, including seizures, deafness, paralysis and brain damage, and that it results in death in about 10 percent of reported cases. In Chad, the mortality rate has risen as high as 75 percent during outbreaks.
Stuart said that MenAfriVac will sell for less than 50 cents per dose in sub-Saharan Africa and can be included as part of routine preventative vaccinations for children.
While its longterm effects are still being studied, Stuart said there have been no indications of negative side effects.
Following its success in Chad, MenAfriVac has since been used to vaccinate an additional 100 million people against type A meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa. Stuart said plans are underway to roll out the vaccine in the rest of the meningitis belt countries.