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Burkina Faso

Meningitis vaccination campaign targets 12 million in Burkina Faso

© UNICEF Burkina Faso/2010/Tarpilga
A 20-year-old woman receives the new meningitis vaccine at the start of a 10-day immunization campaign targeting 12 million children and young adults in Burkina Faso.

By Priscilla Ofori-Amanfo

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, 8 December 2010 – .By the end of next week, 12 million Burkinabe children and young adults will receive a new meningitis vaccine. The drive to tackle this potentially fatal disease, which infects the lining around the brain and spinal cord, was launched by President Blaise Compaoré in the presence of leaders and ministers from other African countries affected by meningitis.

Also on hand at the launch were representatives of organizations involved in the development and roll-out of the meningitis vaccine – including the international non-profit health organization PATH, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the GAVI Alliance, the Serum Institute of India, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Burkina Faso is part of the ‘meningitis belt’ comprising 25 African nations, from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, which are prone to meningitis epidemics. People infected with the disease can die within 24 to 48 hours after symptoms have developed. Meningitis also may cause brain damage and learning disabilities among those who survive it.

New hope for the sub-region

Against this backdrop, Burkina Faso is the first country to launch a nationwide meningitis vaccination campaign; similar campaigns will be soon implemented by neighbouring Niger and Mali. The new vaccine, known as MenAfriVac, provides protection from the group A meningitis strain. By 2015, the lives of an estimated 150,000 young adults will have been saved as a result of the vaccine’s introduction.

© UNICEF Burkina Faso/2010/Tarpilga
National leaders, health ministers and representatives from partner organizations stand alongside the President and First Lady of Burkina Faso at the launch of the meningitis vaccination campaign.

In his address at the campaign launch, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Health, Seydou Bouda, reiterated his country’s commitment. “I can assure you that necessary action will be taken to reach the objective of vaccinating everyone aged from 1 to 29 years old, which represents 70 per cent of the population of Burkina Faso, in 10 days,” he stated, adding that the meningitis vaccine “marks an important step in the elimination of meningitis A in the sub-region.”  

The hope is that this new vaccine, which costs less than 50 cents a dose, will provide African countries with an affordable, safe way to safeguard their populations against the disease.

Importance of partnerships

The idea of developing a vaccine to overcome meningitis outbreaks began in 2001 with the creation of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a partnership between WHO and PATH, supported by the Gates Foundation.

Significant funds for the development of the vaccine were also made available by the GAVI Alliance. The Serum Institute of India developed the vaccine with technology transferred from the United States and the Netherlands. UNICEF contributed to the effort with vaccine procurement and medical supplies.

President Compaoré highlighted the important role of partnerships in the development of the vaccine and in the vaccination campaign. “This meningitis vaccine is the result of all the partners who have worked together,” he said. “The vaccine represents a real hope for African populations to address and overcome health issues which pose a threat to our well-being.”



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