Meningitis Spreading Rapidly in Sudan

MSF Launches Large-Scale Aid Program

Khartoum/New York: March 3, 1999 — Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is sending 17 aid workers to Sudan to fight the meningitis epidemic that has broken out on a wide scale there. The first group of volunteers leaves today; the rest will follow later this week. A cargo plane left from England last weekend carrying enough medicine to treat 9,000 patients.

The spread of meningitis in central Sudan has assumed epidemic proportions. The first alarming figures became known a week ago. The worst affected areas are the states of Darfur, Kordofan, and Sennar, but new infections are also been reported elsewhere in Sudan. So far 1,584 cases have been recorded, 220 of them fatal.

MSF has launched a mass vaccination program in close collaboration with the Sudanese ministry of health. Mobile teams are travelling through the country, treating patients and administering vaccinations to prevent further infection. About 10 million Sudanese will be vaccinated. In the past few years MSF has carried out similar aid programs during large meningitis epidemics in Nigeria, Ghana, and Niger.

Sudan lies in the 'meningitis belt' which extends 3,700 miles across the width of Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia. The areas within this belt are regularly subject to serious meningitis epidemics. These usually begin during the dry season from December to February, and can sometimes last more than a year.

Meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, is a highly infectious disease that left untreated is fatal in 50 to 80 percent of all cases. The first symptoms are sudden fever, severe headache, nausea, a stiff neck and/or skin rash. The disease affects people of all ages, but small children are particularly susceptible. A single injection with an antibiotic is generally sufficient to keep the disease at bay.