The situation of the meningitis epidemic in Niger, caused by Neisseria meningitidis serogroup C, has improved thanks to intensive efforts at the national and international levels. A significant reduction of cases is now being reported in all affected areas and two support centres in Niamey, the capital, were closed as no case has been recorded during the last week.
As of 11 June 2015, the Ministry of Public Health of Niger has informed WHO of an accumulation of 8341 suspected cases, including 557 deaths since the beginning of 2015. The spread of the disease peaked in the week of 4 to 10 May, when there were 2189 cases and 132 deaths. A single case of meningitis was reported on 10 June 2015.
The epidemic was very worrying as it hit a densely populated urban area of more than one million people, creating a risk of rapid spread and causing a large number of cases. Despite the improved situation, vigilance is necessary because the risk of transmission remains high.
According to the WHO Representative in Niger, Dr Assimawe Pana, “since the declaration of the epidemic, several actions have been undertaken by the Ministry of Public Health of Niger with support from the World Health Organization (WHO ) and other partners, particularly in the areas of epidemiological surveillance, laboratory diagnosis, patient care, vaccination, communication and coordination.
“To help Niger to end this epidemic, WHO and its partners will continue to provide support to the country through mass vaccination campaigns and by implementing emergency control measures to prevent the spread of this devastating disease,” Dr Pana added.
Despite the shortage of vaccines against meningitis worldwide, WHO and its partners have helped Niger to mobilize more than 1.3 million doses of vaccine through the International Coordinating Group Meningitis Vaccine (ICG). A large consignment of drugs for the treatment of meningitis was also provided to the country. Through these interventions, over 7500 patients have been treated and recovered from the disease during the epidemic.
ICG is a partnership uniting WHO, UNICEF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and works closely with vaccine manufacturers.
In October 2014, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) recommended that a one-dose schedule of the conjugate meningitis A vaccine MenAfriVac®, given at nine months of age or more, be integrated into immunization schedules in Niger and other countries along the ‘African meningitis belt’ by the end of 2015.
This recommendation ensures that infants are protected against meningitis and population-wide immunity is maintained. MenAfriVac® was introduced in vaccination campaigns in Niger in 2011 and has eliminated meningitis epidemics caused by serogroup A.