MSF responds to meningitis outbreak in southern Chad

N'Djamena/Brussels: MSF has started a vaccination campaign in Bongor District, Chad, following a recent outbreak of meningitis. The campaign, due to last one month, will provide preventative cover all persons aged between six months and 30 years, which represents 72% of a total population of 272,000.

Chad is part of the so-called meningitis belt in Sub-Saharan Africa, an area where epidemics occur regularly, affecting large numbers of people, and usually requiring the intervention of specialised teams such as those of MSF. Epidemic thresholds in the district, located 250kms south of the capital N'Djamena, were reached at the beginning of March.

The MSF teams, in collaboration with local medical authorities and the Ministry of Health, will first cover the zones of Moulkou, Bongor city and its urban area, Bongor Sieke and Magao.

"We have identified those zones as priority areas because they are hardest hit", explained Michel Quéré, MSF medical coordinator in Chad. "In the next phase, we will vaccinate the rest of the target population in the 18 zones the district includes."

On average, three to four days are necessary to cover one zone. Mobile teams with cars ensure vaccination in the remote rural areas, while the rest of the population in villages and urban areas are invited through public announcements to come to health centres or vaccination posts set up by the teams.

Meningitis can kill up to 80% of infected patients if left untreated. It is an infection of the meninges, which is the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord like a sheath. It can be caused by a variety of germs, both viral and bacterial. The most dangerous form, however, is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, commonly called the meningococcus. Three strains exist.

This vaccination campaign is aimed at protecting people against meningococcus A and C, the two strains found in this particular outbreak.

"Every three or four years, there are meningitis outbreaks in this region," added Michel Quéré. "Given that the last was in 2001, we had kept 98,000 doses from a previous vaccination campaign. We should soon receive by charter twenty five cubic meters of vaccination material, including 200,000 additional doses."

Other MSF activities in the Bongor district include a malaria project and support to a training centre for medical doctors in the fields of basic surgery and anaesthesia .