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Meningitis A nearly eliminated in Africa through vaccination, reaching over 235 million people

Global vaccine experts and officials from all 26 African “meningitis belt” countries have convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to celebrate one of Africa’s biggest public health achievements–the introduction of a vaccine, MenAfriVac®, designed, developed, and produced for use in Africa, that in five years of use has nearly eliminated serogroup A meningococcal disease from meningitis belt countries and is now being integrated into routine national immunization programs.

Cases of the deadly infectious disease went from over 250,000 during an outbreak in 1996 to just 80 confirmed cases in 2015 among countries that had not yet conducted mass immunization campaigns and among those unvaccinated, scientists at the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) Closure Conference reported.

At the same time, they announced that eight countries have applied for funding to start integrating this lifesaving vaccine into their national childhood immunization programs.

“Our great success against meningitis A is by no means permanent,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “To sustain the protection that has been afforded to date against meningitis A, all at-risk countries must finish conducting vaccination campaigns and begin incorporating the vaccine into routine childhood immunization programs.”

The MVP Closure Conference organized by WHO and the international global health nonprofit PATH, is taking place just before the Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa. Responding to a call for help from African ministers of health after one of the worst epidemics of meningitis ever seen, WHO and PATH partnered to form MVP in 2001, which for over 14 years led the development, licensure, and introduction of a new vaccine against meningitis A.

In 2008, the Gavi Alliance approved support to immunize the at-risk population (aged 1 through 29 years) in the 26 meningitis belt countries with preventive campaigns. Since the first campaign, Gavi has disbursed US$367 million to meningitis A programs for campaigns and an emergency stockpile.

Now, however, the pioneering vaccine development project has ended, and MVP and partners are working with African government health officials to carefully plan for the next steps in the continued deployment of MenAfriVac®. A mathematical model determined that if no subsequent immunization program was implemented after the large one-off vaccination campaigns, countries could expect to see epidemics recur within 15 years.

To ensure continued protection for future generation, Gavi now offers financial support to countries to introduce the vaccine into their routine immunization schedules.

“We have achieved something truly historic with MenAfriVac®–creating an affordable, effective, tailor-made vaccine for Africa,” said Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH. “In another breakthrough, the vaccine does not require constant refrigeration and is the first vaccine to be authorized by WHO for use at ambient temperatures of up to 40°C (104°F) for up to four days.”