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MSF Launches Large-Scale Vaccination Campaign in Response to Meningitis Epidemic
March 1, 2006
On February 27, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) launched a massive meningitis vaccination campaign in the Maradi region of Niger. Five hundred thousand people are expected to be vaccinated initially. MSF teams are also treating people who have already contracted this highly-contagious infectious disease.
The number of bacterial meningitis cases has exceeded the warning threshold in two districts of Maradi region in southwestern Niger. According to official statistics, 512 people have been infected with the disease since the first cases appeared in mid-October 2005, including 222 in Guidam Roumdji and 196 in Madarounfa. MSF teams in these two districts began a vaccination program and started treating patients. In the first phase, our teams will vaccinate 500,000 people from 2 to 30 years of age. The teams are composed of doctors, nurses, logisticians, and vaccinators. At a rate of 1,500 people vaccinated per day and per team, the operation should last for two weeks.
ACTIVE MONITORING OF THE EPIDEMIC'S SPREAD
At the same time, MSF is working to treat people who have contracted the disease by providing antibiotics to health centers and providing support to Nigerien medical staff to in making diagnoses, applying treatment protocols and referring patients with medical complications to the district hospital. Finally, MSF teams are setting up an epidemiological monitoring system to track the epidemic's development and expand preventive and treatment activities as soon as necessary. There is great concern that the epidemic will spread quickly to other regions.
DEADLY WITHOUT TREATMENT
Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It is highly contagious and is transmitted through the air on drops of saliva. Without treatment, 50 to 80 percent of those who develop active meningitis will die. Several bacteria cause meningitis but meningoccocus is the only one that causes epidemics. The current epidemic in Niger is caused by meningoccocus A.
Epidemics occur during dry seasons, when the throat's mucous membranes are more irritated, thus allowing the meningococcus to penetrate the body.
Treatment involves antibiotic injections. The vaccination provides protection for around three years.