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Nigeria first to introduce new vaccine against meningitis – WHO

Nigeria has become the first country in the world to roll out a new vaccine – Men5CV – recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO),…

Nigeria has become the first country in the world to roll out a new vaccine – Men5CV – recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to protect people against meningitis.

The world health body, in a statement on Friday, said that the vaccine would protect people against five strains of meningococcus bacteria, and described Nigeria’s feat as historic.

It said that health workers would begin an immunisation campaign aimed at reaching one million people.

The statement said that the vaccine and emergency vaccination activities are funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which funds the global meningitis vaccine stockpile and supports lower-income countries with routine vaccination against meningitis.

According to the WHO, Nigeria is one of the 26 meningitis hyper-endemic countries of Africa, situated in the area known as the African Meningitis Belt.

It noted that in 2023, there was a 50 per cent jump in annual meningitis cases reported across Africa.

“In Nigeria, an outbreak of Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) serogroup C outbreak, led to 1,742 suspected meningitis cases, including 101 confirmed cases and 153 deaths in seven of 36 Nigerian states, between October 2023 and March 2024.

The states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe, Zamfara.

“To quell the deadly outbreak, a vaccination campaign was undertaken on 25–28 March 2024 to initially reach more than one million people aged 1-29 years,” it said.

The statement noted that meningitis was a serious infection that leads to the inflammation of the membranes (meninges), that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

“There are multiple causes of meningitis, including viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic pathogens.

“Symptoms often include headache, fever and stiff neck. Bacterial meningitis is the most serious, and can also result in septicaemia (blood poisoning). It can seriously disable or kill within 24 hours,” the statement added.

It quoted Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, as saying that meningitis was an old and deadly foe, adding that the new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives.

“Nigeria’s rollout brings us one step closer to our goal of eliminating meningitis by 2030,” Ghebreyesus said.

He said that the revolutionary new vaccine offers a powerful shield against the five major strains of the meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W, Y and X – in a single shot.

All five strains cause meningitis and blood poisoning.

According to him, this provides broader protection than the current vaccine used in much of Africa, which is only effective against the A strain.

He said that the new vaccine has the potential to significantly reduce meningitis cases and advance progress in defeating meningitis.

“This is especially important for countries like Nigeria where multiple serogroups are prevalent.

“The new vaccine uses the same technology as the meningitis A conjugate vaccine (MenAfriVac®), which wiped out meningococcal A epidemics in Nigeria,” the WHO boss said.

The statement quoted Prof. Muhammad Pate, Nigeria’s Minister of Health and Social Welfare, as saying that Northern Nigeria, particularly the states of Jigawa, Bauchi and Yobe, were badly hit by the deadly outbreak of meningitis.

“This vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to both stop this outbreak and also put the country on a path to elimination,” Pate said.

According to him, Nigeria has done a lot of work preparing health workers and the health system for the rollout of the new vaccine. (NAN)

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