Menafrivac, Its Success Against Group A Meningococcus In Sub-Saharan Africa And The Challenges Which Lie Ahead.
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The Sahel is a vast region of semi-arid desert stretching across the south central latitudes of Northern Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. It is home to some of the world’s most underdeveloped countries and to Africa’s notorious “Meningitis Belt’. While Neisseria Meningitidis (often referred to as meningococcus) is found worldwide, it is in this belt, which borders the southern Sahara desert that the highest incidence of Meningococcal disease, specifically group A meningococcus, was found. During periodic epidemics, occurring mostly during the dry season between December and June, rates of infection reached up to 1000 cases per 100,000 of the population per year. This is in contrast to Australia, Europe or the United States where rates of infection typically rate between 0.3 to three cases per 100,000 per year[i]. The nineteen-nineties was a particularly bleak decade in the meningitis belt with thousands dying from the disease each year during that period. The picture today, however, could not look more different. As a result of one of the greatest public health initiatives of modern times, meningitis has been virtually eliminated in west, central and east Africa. Along with improved disease surveillance, the introduction of the MenAfriVac vaccine, a collaborative effort between the WHO, African governments, various NGO’s and Private Foundations, has slashed rates of infection to negligible levels since its introduction in 2010. Few vaccines have been so successful in such a short space of time.