Strides worth taking
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Burkina Faso became the first country in the African continent to begin a nationwide campaign to rid the region of the meningitis epidemic.
MenAfriVac, the first vaccine designed specifically for Africa, is expected to help health workers eliminate meningococcal A epidemics in the 25 countries of the meningitis epidemic belt. The epidemic stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east.
“With a one-time investment to vaccinate populations in all countries of the meningitis belt, nearly 150,000 young lives could be saved by 2015,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “Epidemic meningitis could become a thing of the past. This is within reach. We must not fail.”
The meningitis bacteria, which affect the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, are transmitted from person to person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions. It spreads by close and prolonged contact such as kissing, sneezing and coughing, and sharing eating or drinking utensils. The disease can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability in 10 to 20 per cent of survivors.
Efficient and effective partnership model
Using a unique public-private partnership model, MenAfriVac was developed by Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) and is priced at less than 50 cents per dose. This is made possible by a partnership between WHO and the global non-profit organization PATH, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Unlike other research and development practice by big pharmaceutical companies, the development of MenAfriVac costs only $50 million – a fraction of the amount usually required to develop and bring a new vaccine to market.
“From day one, the development of this vaccine has been a [product of] collaboration among industry, institutions, and individuals driven by public health needs,” said Marc LaForce, Director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project. “The successful development of a vaccine in less than a decade is almost unheard of.”
Christopher J. Elias, President and CEO of PATH said the model created through the development of this vaccine is “groundbreaking” and could not have been accomplished without the joint efforts of the African Ministers of Health and the many other global partners.
“MenAfriVac may well serve as a model for developing vaccines in the future to combat other deadly diseases in low-resource settings,” Elias said.
Advantages of the new vaccine
The new vaccine has several advantages over vaccines currently used to combat meningitis epidemics in Africa. It protects children as young as one, and it is expected to both protect from the disease for significantly longer than the vaccine now used to combat epidemics, and to reduce infection and transmission.
The agency added that the rapid development of the vaccine is in large part due to the commitment of the Serum Institute of India, Ltd., the vaccine manufacturer. Africans have in the past waited as long as 20 years for a vaccine to travel from the industrialized north to the nations of the south. In this case, MenAfriVac will be introduced in Africa before it is distributed anywhere else.
More than 12 million people in Burkina Faso are set to receive the new vaccine by the end of the year. MenAfriVac will then be introduced in Mali and Niger, two other hyper-endemic countries in the meningitis belt.