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A Tale of Two Sambas – and a lifesaving vaccine

Eileen Quinn, director of communications and advocacy for PATH’s Vaccine Development, Delivery, and Access programs.

Dr. Samba Sow is one of the reasons I feel privileged to work in global health. A pediatrician and clinical investigator in Mali, he has been in the thick of addressing critical health needs of his country and continent – from rotavirus to Ebola.  We met first when he graciously agreed to be interviewed about the importance of rotavirus vaccines, and each time I run into him I am inspired by his tireless efforts to improve the health of children worldwide.

Dr. Sow was also a key partner as the World Health Organization and PATH worked on developing a meningitis vaccine to address the devastating epidemics caused by Meningitis A in Sub-Saharan Africa. He helped conduct the seminal trials that demonstrated the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. And in this, he was joined by Samba Sibiry, who as a small child was one of the first to receive the MenAfriVac® vaccine as volunteer in the clinical trial. You can meet them both in this brief video.

Thanks to them both – and the thousands of other volunteers in the trials – MenAfriVac® was proven safe and effective, approved for use, and introduced in 2010 for mass vaccination campaigns that have had an immediate and dramatic impact in breaking the cycle of meningitis A epidemics. As of this year, the MenAfriVac® campaigns reached more than 217 million people in 15 countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and Togo).

This tremendous success is due to the hard work of many partners: Serum Institute of India for developing the vaccine so quickly and so well, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for helping fund the development partnership, leadership from WHO and AFRO, and support to countries from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

In follow up to the mass vaccination campaigns, the next priority is to deliver the vaccines to infants. Dr. Samba Sow also helped make that possible as one of the investigators in the vaccine trial with infants. Those study results informed the World Health Organization’s approval of the infant version of MenAfriVac® in December 2014, making it possible to use the vaccine in routine childhood immunization programs. In addition to protecting the infants themselves, the routine use will help improve population-wide immunity and long-term control benefitting everyone living across the meningitis belt.

One of the reasons I am such a big fan of Dr. Samba Sow is that in addition to his scientific contributions, he steps up to help share the evidence and spread the word about the importance and impact of vaccines.

His passion, his pursuit of solutions, and his dedication to protecting children like Samba Sibiry are certainly an inspiration to me, and to so many working with him in the global health community.

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