woman holding meningitis vaccine Albert González Farran/ UNAMID via Flikr

Defeating Meningitis in Africa

Africa’s progress in fighting meningitis A is one of the best-kept secrets in global health. Thanks to the development and deployment of a low-cost vaccine, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved since 2010.

SEATTLE – Africa’s progress in fighting meningitis A is one of the best-kept secrets in global health. Thanks to the development and deployment of a low-cost vaccine, the lives of hundreds of thousands of children have been saved, and communities that might otherwise have been devastated by the illness are thriving.

Meningococcal A meningitis is a bacterial infection of the thin lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and it can be deadly. For more than a century, epidemics have swept across 26 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, killing and disabling tens of thousands of primarily young people every year. The disease is highly feared on the continent; it can kill within hours or leave its victims with severe brain damage.

Outbreaks usually occur at the beginning of the calendar year, when dry winds from the Sahara Desert begin blowing southward. The 1996-1997 epidemic resulted in more than 250,000 cases and 25,000 deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa, many of them children. Of those who survived, one in four were left with permanent disabilities, including paralysis, blindness, hearing loss, seizures, and brain damage.

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