Covid-19 threatens elimination of deadly form of meningitis in Africa

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World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 50 million children missed vaccination of meningitis in Africa as the COVID-19 pandemic delayed meningitis vaccination campaigns, and now the region is at a heightened risk of outbreaks of meningitis type A.

According to WHO, the pandemic severely disrupted meningitis prevention and control services, with disease surveillance, laboratory confirmation of cases and outbreak investigations all steeply declining. Based on reports from countries, WHO found that meningitis control activities were reduced by 50% in 2020 compared with 2019, with a slight improvement in 2022.

“The defeat of meningitis type A is of one of Africa’s biggest success stories in health, but the fallout from COVID-19 hampers our drive to eliminate this bacterial infection as a public health threat once and for all, and could lead to catastrophic resurgences,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“In prioritizing the response to COVID-19, we must not lose our focus on other health problems. I urge countries to ramp up implementation of the new WHO regional roadmap now, before the meningitis season begins in January 2023.”

The WHO and its partners have since launched a roadmap aimed at stopping bacterial meningitis outbreaks by 2030, urging countries to implement it rapidly before the start of the meningitis season in January 2023.

The new regional strategy sets out a roadmap for countries to shore up diagnosis, surveillance, care, advocacy and vaccination to eliminate outbreaks, curb deaths by 70% and halve infections. WHO estimates that US$ 1.5 billion will be required between now and 2030 to implement the plan, which if countries fully adopt will save more than 140 000 lives every year in the region and significantly reduce disability.

Meningitis type A was the highest cause of meningitis outbreaks in Africa. In 2010 MenAfriVac vaccine was developed to effectively cure Meningitis type A. The vaccine was developed in response to a plea from African health ministers after a meningitis type A outbreak in 1996 infected more than 250 000 people and killed over 25 000 in just a few months.

The drive to eliminate this type of meningitis has been immensely successful. While meningitis type A accounted for 90% of cases and deaths before 2010, no new cases have been reported since 2017.

Controlling this lethal form of meningitis has led to fewer deaths from meningitis type A and other types of microorganisms.

 

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