The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged African countries to ramp up the implementation of a new roadmap, which was launched on Thursday, to curb outbreaks of bacterial meningitis on the continent by 2030.
Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, predominantly caused by bacterial or viral infections. It is usually spread by airborne droplets through the respiratory tract, and patients may suffer a range of permanent symptoms, including paralysis and deafness.
The deadly disease has taken a heavy toll on people in Sub-Saharan Africa, with an outbreak in 1996 infecting more than 250,000 people and killing over 25,000 in a matter of a few months.
Children under the age of five are the most vulnerable group, accounting for about half of all infections and deaths from meningitis. Since a vaccination campaign to defeat meningitis Group A was launched in December 2010, outbreaks had largely been brought under control across the continent.
However, a resurgence of meningitis occurred after COVID-19 hit the continent and overwhelmed national health systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed vaccination campaigns targeting more than 50 million African children, raising the risk that these gains will be reversed, said Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
"Major outbreaks caused by meningitis Group C have been recorded in seven of the African Sub-Saharan meningitis belt countries in the past nine years. The most recent was a four-month outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which claimed more than 200 lives just last year," she said.
Moeti urged African countries to step up implementation of the new roadmap requiring countries to strengthen diagnosis, surveillance, care and vaccination to eliminate outbreaks, reduce infection rates by half and mortality rates by 70 percent.
If the roadmap is fully implemented, it would save more than 140,000 lives each year on the continent and significantly reduce disability, WHO estimates