NEW YORK/NIAMEY, NIGER, MAY, 19 2017—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has deployed several emergency teams to Niger to contain a meningitis outbreak that has killed 179 people since the beginning of the year. Working closely with Niger’s Ministry of Public Health, MSF teams have vaccinated more than 358,800 people in the most affected areas while continuing to monitor at-risk areas and provide medical care to those affected by the disease. So far, the number of meningitis cases recorded across Niger this year has almost doubled compared to 2016 during the same period.
The outbreak is affecting regions throughout the country, though the majority of the 3,037 recorded cases and 179 deaths between January 1 and May 7 occurred in the western part of the country. In response to the outbreak, which was declared by the Ministry of Public Health at the end of March, MSF supported a vaccination campaign targeting the regions of Niamey, Tillabéry, Dosso, and Tahoua.
“As with the meningitis outbreaks of previous years, we have responded to the emergency in areas where the population has been the most affected,” said Félix Kouassi, MSF’s head of mission in Niger. “Our teams have supported the Ministry of Public Health in managing the vaccination campaign in several districts of the town of Niamey and also in the regions of Tillabéry, Dosso, and Tahoua, where more than 75 percent of cases have been recorded.”
Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial disease that causes serious infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Niger is part of the “meningitis belt”—a region that stretches across sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia—and is regularly affected by this disease. Cases of meningitis C have been on the rise for several years. This year, 65 percent of meningitis cases have been verified cases of meningitis C, the main strain of this epidemic, and 18 percent have been verified as meningitis strain X.
In order to implement the vaccination campaign in the areas affected, 341,000 doses were provided by the International Coordinating Group on vaccine provision. The rest of the vaccines were supplied by the Ministry of Public Health.
Since the beginning of the year, MSF has been working with the Ministry of Public Health on rapidly treating meningitis patients and monitoring high-risk areas . MSF supported three hospitals and 24 health centers in the regions of Niamey, Dosso, Tillabéry, and Tahoua by providing them with supplies such as drugs, rapid diagnostic tests, laboratory kits, lumbar puncture needles, syringes, and even mattresses.
MSF continues to monitor the areas that are at risk and provide support to manage cases. Emergency teams are also ready if the Ministry of Public Health needs support for a new vaccination campaign.
MSF has been in Niger since 1985 and currently works in the regions of Maradi, Tahoua, Zinder, and Diffa providing pediatric and neonatology care, treatment for malnourished children under 5 years old, immunizations, reproductive health services, and support in the fight against malaria. In 2015 and 2016, MSF teams supported the Nigerien Ministry of Health’s response to the meningitis epidemic in the regions of Niamey, Zinder, Tahoua, Tillabéry, and Dosso. During the 2016 epidemic, there were 1,538 cases of meningitis and 114 deaths reported between January and June.