Niger: responding to the worst meningitis outbreak in five years
Niamey, Niger, 4 May 2009 - UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies have launched an emergency response to combat the virulent outbreak of meningitis which is currently affecting Niger.
To date, more than 11,609 cases of meningitis and 472 deaths have been reported.
Niger is part of the "African meningitis belt" which stretches from Mauritania in the west to Ethiopia in the east and is home to about 350 million people.
“This is the worst meningitis outbreaks the country has seen in five years”, says Dr. Khaled Bensaid, Head of UNICEF’s Health and Nutrition section. “Since February, UNICEF, the Government and other partners have launched a massive vaccination campaign to ensure that the epidemic is contained and does not spread to other countries.”
To date, UNICEF has procured nearly 2 million doses of vaccine in the country. These vaccine doses have been channeled to health centres and hospitals located in endemic and high-risk areas.
“Children and young adults are particularly at risk as the disease affects mainly people aged 2-30 years”, adds Dr. Khaled Bensaid.
In addition to case management and mass vaccination campaigns, community awareness and sensitization is essential if the epidemic is to be contained.
“People came in my community to talk about the vaccination campaign”, says Aïssa Soumana, mother of 6 year-old Oumarou Nourou, who has come for meningitis vaccination at the Gaweye health centre in Niamey. “They also told me how to recognize symptoms of the disease. For example, stiff neck, high fever, headaches, vomiting. »
In Niger, another 1.3 million doses are needed to cover at-risk populations. UNICEF and WHO have ordered nearly one million doses, to be available in the country in early May, therefore covering most of the needs.
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