Meningococcal disease takes many lives. Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that each year there are about 500 000 cases of meningococcal disease and approximately 50 000 deaths. African countries in the so-called "meningitis belt" south of the Sahara, from Senegal to Ethiopia, are particularly vulnerable to meningococcal epidemics. Approximately 450 million people are at risk.
Burkina Faso first
The West African state of Burkina Faso was the first to introduce MenAfriVac in December 2010. Everyone between 1 and 29 years old, almost 12 million people, were vaccinated within a few weeks. Six months after the introduction of the vaccine in Burkina Faso only four cases of serogroup A meningococcal disease have been reported, all of which were in unvaccinated people.
NIPH has made important research contributions
The NIPH has contributed with microbiological and serological expertise in the development of the vaccine, and is now leading one of the studies to evaluate the effect of the vaccine in Burkina Faso. At any given time, many people carry meningococci in their throat without becoming ill. These healthy carriers are the main source of the spread of bacteria. Vaccines, such as MenAfriVac will, in addition to protecting vaccinated individuals, prevent the carriage of the bacteria and thus reduce the possible transfer between people. The disease risk for those who have not been vaccinated will consequently be reduced.
The study will determine if the number of carriers of serogroup A meningococci has been reduced by mass vaccination with MenAfriVac. Already, more than 40 000 throat samples have been collected since the end of 2008. Positive samples are sent to the NIPH for further analysis. Preliminary results suggest that the vaccine provides herd immunity.
It is important to find out whether the vaccine reduces the carrier state for evaluation of vaccination strategies in the other African countries wishing to introduce MenAfriVac.
The project is a collaboration between the Ministry of Health in Burkina Faso, WHO, MVP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA. The Research Council of Norway is supporting the project through the GLOBVAC Program (Global Health and Vaccination Research).