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Meningitis Epidemic in Burkina Faso Still Spreading
March 23, 2007
New York, Ouagadougou, March 23, 2007 – The meningitis epidemic that emerged in Burkina Faso at the end of February continues to spread. The most recent statistics issued by the health authorities in mid March show 801 deaths and 10,796 suspected cases since the beginning of the year. While two-thirds of the country is in an epidemic phase or on alert, the capital, Ouagadougou, is affected. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), already assisting hospitalized patients in the capital, is now stepping up its response. A cargo plane carrying vaccines for 540,000 people arrived on Saturday, March 17 with the necessary cold chain equipment, and MSF meningitis specialists are present in the county.
Since February 26, MSF has been supporting the Ouagadougou health authorities treating meningitis patients. The medical organization is working in two health centers in the capital, where the few dozen beds available rapidly became insufficient. To offset this, MSF has installed an additional 160 beds in medical tents and is supplying medical equipment.
The epidemic threshold has now been crossed in three out of the four districts of Ouagadougou, and there is concern that the situation among the population of one-and-a-half-million people concentrated in the city will further deteriorate. Meningitis is highly contagious and health authorities have made public appeals for people to report to medical centers as soon as any symptoms appear.
"The influx of people who have contracted meningitis is so great that the 160 beds provided by our teams are already fully occupied and we are preparing to increase our capacity," said FranÃ§ois Giddey, head of MSF's Burkina Faso mission. "The situation is worrying because meningitis can kill 50 percent of people infected if they do not receive proper treatment. And even with treatment, serious neurological complications occur in 20 percent of cases," Giddey added.
In order to contain the epidemic, the national authorities have introduced extensive vaccination campaigns across the country. In view of the extent of the need, MSF has decided to conduct a vaccination campaign in Pissy, the most heavily populated district of the capital, where there are around 540,000 people in total to be vaccinated. The vaccines, medicines, and necessary medical and logistical equipment arrived in Ouagadougou on March 17. So far, MSF has spent close to one million euros in response to the emergency.
Since the start of the year MSF teams have helped to vaccinate more than 860,000 people against meningitis in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. MSF has been in Burkina Faso since 1995, caring for people living with HIV/AIDS and working with street children who have no access to medical care.