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Nigeria Becomes First Country In World To Roll Out New Five-in-One Meningitis Vaccine

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First rollout of new WHO-recommended meningitis vaccine(called Men5CV) took place in Nigeria in March 2024. The vaccine protects people against five strains of the meningococcus bacteria.

Nigeria has incorporated a cutting-edge meningitis vaccine into its immunization programmes, becoming the first country on the continent to roll it out. The vaccine provides immunity against as many as five strains of deadly meningococcus bacteria, WHO announced on Friday.

“Meningitis is an old and deadly foe, but this new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, commenting on the rollout.

In light of the recent outbreaks in the north of the country, Men5CV, as the vaccine is called, could be a game-changer for combatting meningitis in Africa’s most populous country.

“We’ll be monitoring progress closely, and hopefully expanding the immunization in the coming months and years to accelerate progress,” said Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate of the Nigerian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in a news release.

Between the beginning of October 2023 and March 11 this year, an outbreak of meningitis serogroup C led to 153 deaths among 1742 suspected cases of the disease. It occurred in seven Nigerian states in the north of the country with children aged 1 to 15 being a large part of its victims. WHO has supported the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, helping with disease surveillance, active case finding, sample testing, and case management. Men5CV rollout can be a decisive blow in curbing meningitis in the country.

“[T]his vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to both stop this outbreak but also put the country on a path to elimination,” Pate stressed.

Meningitis is a leading killer

Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Typical symptoms include headache, fever and stiff neck.

While infection can be caused by both viruses and bacteria, bacterial strains are the most deadly, and can lead to blood poisoning, death, or disability within 24 hours, WHO warns.

Global burden of meningitis; African countries among the most affected.

Bacterial meningitis is a leading killer of children under the age of 5, particularly in Africa, claiming 112 000  lives prematurely every year. In 2019, WHO and partners launched the global roadmap to defeating meningitis by 2030.

The aim is to eliminate bacterial meningitis epidemics, reduce vaccine-preventable cases and improving the quality of life after suffering from meningitis. The new vaccine, which would be routinely administered to children as well as to younger adults up to 29 years of age during outbreaks, can help make it happen, WHO officials said.

“Nigeria’s rollout brings us one step closer to our goal to eliminate meningitis by 2030,” Tedros highlighted.

Men5CV protects against five bacterial strains of meningitis, A, C, W, Y and X, in a single shot. Thanks to the broader protection, it offers better prospects than the current vaccine used in much of Africa, only effective against the A strain.

The new vaccination programme is funded by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance as part of their financing of the global meningitis vaccine stockpile. It was developed by PATH, a global health non-profit, and the Serum Institute of India, with financing from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“The promise of MenFive® lies not just in its immediate impact but in the countless lives it stands to protect in the years to come, moving us closer to a future free from the threat of this disease,” said Dr Nanthalile Mugala, PATH’s Chief of Africa Region.

Image Credits: WHO/Ayodamola Olufunto Owoseye, IHME.

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