Something to write home about from Benin: meningitis vaccination campaign to protect young people

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Katherine Moore

Katherine Moore
Country Programmes, GAVI

Friday
16 November
2012
Benin

Watched by Benin President, Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi, Health Minister Dr. Dorothée K.Gazard, administers the MenAfriVac.

GAVI and partners, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and PATH, gathered in Cotonou this week to mark an upcoming milestone in public health – later this year the 100th million person will be vaccinated with MenAfriVac, less than two years after the start of our mass campaign programme.

While the Alliance will not reach the number until December, Benin President Dr. Thomas Yayi Boni, senior government representatives, 2,000 Beninois and international guests held a major party on 15 November complete with traditional poetry, Guedele dancing and singing.

We all have reasons to celebrate the success of the meningitis A vaccine. Just 17 years ago, Meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, ravaged a broad swath of Africa, extending from Senegal in the West to Ethiopia, commonly known as the ‘meningitis belt’.

With a mortality rate of 50 percent for those unable to seek immediate treatment, it robbed many countries of the very young, children and adults aged less than 30. In 1996, the region’s worst epidemic infected a quarter of a million and killed 25,000.

Responding to pressure from African Ministers of Health, the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a collaboration between the WHO and PATH funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, worked on the development of a vaccine specifically tackling the strain of meningitis in the region. Together with the Serum Institute of India, they have brought to the market an affordable vaccine easily accessible to countries that most need it.

GAVI has funded the campaigns, providing more than US$162 million for vaccine support and preparations for the 10 countries that have launched to date. GAVI’s plans include continued support for preventive campaigns in the additional meningitis A belt countries as well as help with epidemic response, surveillance and routine immunisation going forward.

Benin

Benin President Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi shows-off a child's vaccine card freshly stamped with MenAfriVac.

It is fitting that all partners in this extraordinary collaboration paused for one day to applaud the collective efforts.

Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, the first African nations to conduct campaigns, sent representatives to the festivities to tell their stories. Burkina Faso reported 40,000 meningitis cases in 2006 and 2007. In 2010, the country vaccinated 12 million people aged one to 29. Since then, there have been no new cases of meningitis A reported among vaccinated populations.

Ouagadougou’s Eric Nabyoure, the project’s first vaccinee, was only 20 months when he received MenAfriVac. He is now a pre-schooler and thriving.

In the small country of Benin, two million children and young people will receive MenAfriVac in an efficient 10 day sweep of the central and northern part of the country that starts tomorrow. They will join neighbours in Ghana, Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal, countries that have or will launch mass campaigns in 2012 to beat back the epidemic.

Thursday’s ceremony included many official speeches, awards, declarations, felicitations, hand shaking and back slapping. However, the finale was the most meaningful. President Boni Yayi, healthcare workers, and the Minister of Health participated in the immunisation of another toddler, the first to be vaccinated with MenAfriVac in Benin. To her obvious surprise, the event included not only a large needle, but 4,000 eyes, loud band music, the blinding lights of dozens of television cameras and soothing pats from many important-looking strangers.

From Eric Nabyoure to another toddler on a stage at the Palais de Congres in Cotonou we have jumped from one to approximately 90 million protected against the devastating disease of meningitis. Now that is really something to write home about.

 

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