Video: CDC Responds to Meningitis in Burkina Faso
Epidemics of bacterial meningitis in Africa can affect hundreds of thousands of people and kill many thousands. CDC’s Dr. Rana Hajjeh describes how CDC has contributed to development of an inexpensive vaccine and is now working with partners to ensure it is used where needed most and evaluated for effectiveness.
Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that usually affects the membranes of the brain. Bacterial meningitis actually occurs all over the world. It can affect children and adults globally in various parts of the world. The problem with meningococcal meningitis, which is the form of bacterial meningitis that we are concerned about here, is that in the Sub-Saharan Belt of Africa, which is called the Meningitis Belt, it has caused severe epidemics. And we are talking epidemics that can reach the size of hundreds of thousands of patients affected and often many thousands of deaths. When the effort to develop a vaccine for Africa was started back in the late '90s, early 2000, CDC was one of the key partners who was involved in this project. Our group has helped better
describing the epidemiology of this disease in the Meningitis Belt, risk factors associated with it, and have played a significant role in vaccine development. The key thing about this vaccine -- it was developed specifically for Africa at the very low cost of 40 cents. The effort was championed by the Serum Institute of India. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to actually find a vaccine at such an affordable cost for this region. And it's a very good example of a private-public partnership when different organizations came together to make sure this goal could be achieved. My group at CDC has been involved and has been working on the meningitis-vaccine project now for over 10 years. This is not just a scientific project for us, but this is something that really touches our full commitment to public health. I remember being in Burkina Faso in 1996, where they have experienced one of the largest epidemics ever. At the time, this epidemic caused 250,000 illnesses, and about 25,000 people died. I remember being there to help control the epidemics and seeing people lying on the streets and under the trees and being completely devastated by this disease. This is one of the probably worst outbreaks I've ever experienced in my professional career. We have two very important objectives for the few coming years. First, we need to make sure that we continue to work very closely with our partners to ensure the vaccine roll-out actually goes smoothly in the rest of the Meningitis Belt. And we are working very closely with the African region of WHO AFRO and with the countries' ministries of health to reach that goal. The other important thing for us is to also evaluate the impact of this vaccine and to document its success in eliminating meningitis epidemics. This vaccine promises to prevent many, many deaths, and, for us, saving lives, at CDC, is the most important goal, and we are very committed to continue working on this.