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Nigeria Rolls Out Historic Vaccine Against Meningitis

Nigeria has become the first country globally to issue a new vaccine against the deadly meningitis disease. This vaccine is called ‘Men5CV’ and is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It provides immunity to those affected by any of the five strains of Meningococcus bacteria: A, C, W, Y and X. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, renowned for its efforts to promote sustainable and equitable use of vaccines in low-income countries, has funded the Men5CV and emergency vaccination programs in Nigeria. Gavi is primarily known for financing the stockpile of global meningitis vaccines and supporting low-income countries in eradicating meningitis.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a severe health issue that causes swelling of the protective membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. It can become fatal if not treated properly. The multiple causes of meningitis include bacterial, viral, parasitic, and fungal pathogens. Frequent headaches, stiff necks, and fever are the most common symptoms of meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is the most fatal. It can cause septicaemia (blood poisoning), disability or the death of the affected person within 24 hours of a contraction if not appropriately diagnosed and treated.

Tackling Meningitis in Nigeria

Africa has 26 meningitis-hyperendemic countries. Nigeria is one of them. It is situated in a region identified as the African Meningitis Belt. According to the WHO, in 2023, there was a 50% increase in meningitis cases reported in Africa. Last year, there was an outbreak of Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) serogroup C in Nigeria. Around 1742 people were affected, out of which 101 cases were confirmed, and 153 people lost their lives. Seven Nigerian states were adversely affected between 1 October 2023 and 11 March 2024. They are Adamawa, Bauchi, Jigawa, Katsina, Gombe, Yobe, and Zamfara. An intensive vaccination drive occurred in Nigeria between 25-28 March 2024 to check the outbreak.

New Vaccine

The vaccine previously used in Nigeria was effective only against the A strain of meningitis. The new vaccine could reduce and eradicate the effects of meningitis. Men5CV is most useful in countries like Nigeria, which has several strains of meningitis prevalent. The new vaccine employs the same technology as the previous one (MenAfriVac®), which successfully eradicated the meningococcal A epidemic in Nigeria. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, marked the historic occasion and tweeted on social media: “#Nigeria is the first country in the world to roll out a new #meningitis vaccine, Men5CV recommended by @WHO…Meningitis is an old and deadly foe, but this new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks, saving many lives, and bringing us closer to our goal to eliminate meningitis by 2030.”

Research and Innovation

Appreciating the collaboration between Nigeria and Gavi, Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate, Coordinating Minister of Health & Social Welfare, Nigeria, wrote on X, “Moving forward, the partnership between Nigeria and Gavi will be crucial in shaping a healthier future for the country. It’s a journey towards a stronger healthcare system that can withstand the present and future challenges, ensuring that every Nigerian has access to improved quality healthcare in line with the Renewed Hope Agenda of President Tinubu.”

With the historic rollout of the new Meningitis vaccine in Nigeria, the global fight against Meningitis has got a much-needed boost. An international summit on meningitis is forthcoming in April 2024. It will be held in Paris. The summit aims to identify challenges and explore options to eradicate the fatal disease by 2030.