The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that USD 1.5 billion will be required to fulfil its long-term goal to eliminate meningitis in Africa between now and 2030. If fully implemented, this plan can save over 140,000 lives and drastically reduce disability in the region.
The policy, unveiled last week, provides a blueprint for nations to improve diagnosis, monitoring, care, advocacy, and vaccination to stop outbreaks, cut infection rates by half by 2030, and reduce fatalities by nearly 70%.
For the unversed, meningitis spreads via saliva, phlegm, or sneezing from an infected person's nose and throat. It is caused by inflammation of the membranes that guard a person’s brain and spinal cord.
One of the most fatal and debilitating types of the illness is acute bacterial meningitis. The infection can turn fatal within 24 hours, causing permanent disability in one in every five infected persons.
Africa suffers from a particularly long meningitis season, ranging from January to June. All ages are susceptible to meningitis, but small children are at a higher risk. They account for almost half of all cases and deaths in children under the age of five.
African nations were making progress in their efforts to eradicate meningitis before the Covid-19 outbreak, but there is now a greater risk of the disease spreading to over 400 million people.
This is due to a sharp reduction in meningitis prevention & control measures, disease surveillance, laboratory confirmation of cases, and outbreak investigations in the past two years.
The WHO reported that meningitis control efforts were cut in half between 2019 and 2020, based on country reports.
Notably, the MenAfriVac vaccine programs were delayed in Benin, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, and Togo, according to a statement from the WHO. In a continent where health services are still vulnerable, a disease that was on the verge of eradication could resurface and become fatal if not tackled well.