In a follow-up on the meningitis outbreak in Nigeria, since the beginning of this year, the country has reported 4637 suspected cases and 489 deaths across five states (Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Niger).

Nigeria map divided by states/United Nations
Nigeria map divided by states/United Nations

A vaccination campaign is underway in the country. The International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision, which coordinates the provision of emergency vaccine supplies during outbreak emergencies, has sent 500,000 doses of meningitis C-containing vaccine to Nigeria to combat the epidemic.

The vaccines, funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, have been administered in Zamfara and Katsina states, which are the worst affected by the outbreak. An additional 820 000 doses of a meningitis C conjugate vaccine – a donation from the UK government to the World Health Organization (WHO) – is being sent to the country.

Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial form of meningitis, a serious infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and can cause severe brain damage. Meningococcal meningitis is fatal in 50% of cases if untreated. Though cases of meningitis occur throughout the world, large, recurring epidemics affect an extensive region of sub-Saharan Africa known as the “meningitis belt” which includes 26 countries from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east.

There are several different types of meningococcal meningitis (A, C, W, etc.) that can cause epidemics. Substantial progress has been made in recent years in protecting Africa from disease due to one of the main epidemic types, through the successful introduction of the Men A conjugate vaccine (MACV) against meningitis A. Since MACV was introduced in 2010, more than 260 million people have been vaccinated across 19 countries. This has resulted in a reduction of the number of meningitis cases by more than 57%. Much work, however, remains to be done to protect the region from meningitis C outbreaks and other types of the disease.

In addition to the use of vaccinations to prevent the transmission of meningitis, 20 000 vials of antibiotics have been sent by the ICG to treat people who have the disease in Nigeria. “Vaccination can drastically reduce the magnitude of the epidemic,” says Dr Sylvie Briand, Director of Infectious Hazard Management for WHO. “But in addition, it is essential to strengthen the care of all those affected by the infection and to ensure those people living in hard-to-reach areas can get treatment.”