Project Update

MSF to vaccinate over four million people in West Africa for meningitis

Meningitis, a disease responsible for thousands of deaths in Africa, is currently spreading in several West African countries. While ensuring a quick access to treatment for the sick people, MSF is undertaking mass vaccination campaigns in Nigeria and Niger and is closely following the situation in other countries in the region. MSF is planning to vaccinate between four and five million people against meningitis.

Dozens of MSF teams are mobilized, in cooperation with the Ministries of Health (MoH), to respond to meningitis epidemics. In an emergency, they have to ensure that treatments are accessible at local levels for those who present symptoms, and contain the epidemic by vaccinating the population at risk in the areas where epidemic or alert thresholds have been reached. Vaccination in populated urban centers is the top priority in order to prevent the spread of meningitis.

Meningitis epidemics are moving fast, so a fast reaction is required. MSF has sent 80 MSF international workers to Niger, 98 to Nigeria, and has hired hundreds of people locally.

Meningitis, a massive deadly threat

Meningitis is a contagious and potentially fatal infection of the brain membrane. The current epidemics in West Africa are caused by strain A of the Neisseria meningitis bacterium, the most frequent one. Without treatment, bacterial meningitis can kill up to 50 percent of those who present clinical symptoms of the disease with most deaths within 48 hours. In order to make treatment available to patients as early as possible, MSF teams are providing meningitis treatment in health centres and referring complicated cases to hospitals.

Epidemic spread across northern Nigeria

In close partnership with the MoH (federal and state levels), MSF teams are vaccinating and treating people in nine states (see the map). The total population of the area is 38 million.

So far the 31 surveillance teams have recorded 20,448 cases, along with 694 deaths, in these states. The relatively low Case Fatality Rates (CFR) shows that people are getting appropriate, effective and timely treatment.

In parallel, 77 MSF teams with MoH workers are carrying out a mass vaccination campaign. So far, around 700,000 people have been immunized in the most affected states of Jigawa, Katsina and Sokoto. New vaccination campaigns have started, or soon will, for 2 million people in Jigawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states. The teams are also determining the next priorities. Campaigns are prepared for 270,000 additional people. In total, if all the campaigns are carried out, more than three million people would be vaccinated by MSF during the meningitis epidemic in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Federal MoH has supplied 2.3 million doses of meningitis vaccine.

Epidemic spreads across southern Niger

MSF emergency staff have arrived to reinforce the teams who are working in nutritional and medical programs in the country. In close partnership with the MoH (national and regional level), MSF has already started vaccination campaigns in the region of Zinder, Maradi and Dosso. In total, more than two million people would be vaccinated, mostly in the Maradi and Zinder regions.

In the Maradi region, 1,428 people suffering from meningitis have been reported by the MoH since the beginning of the year, of whom 44 have died. Beside the essential treatment of sick patients, MSF teams, supporting MoH staff, have vaccinated 140,000 people in the city of Maradi. As the epidemic is rapidly moving, MSF has launched vaccination campaigns in Madarounfa and Tessaoua districts and will soon start work in Aguié district. The total target population for this vaccination campaign is estimated at 900,000 people.

In the Zinder region, MSF mobile teams are supporting health units in providing medical care to meningitis patients in all the areas where there are cases in the six districts. In parallel, 60 vaccination teams are going to cover four districts, mostly in rural areas. More than 270,000 people have already been vaccinated and campaigns are going on. Around one million people should be vaccinated by the end of April.

A regional scourge

In Burkina Faso, in Chad and Cameroun, teams are monitoring the situation due to an increase of meningitis cases.