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Latest Update on Nigeria Meningitis Outbreak

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

11 April 2017

Written by Lucy Swain

*UPDATE: Please see NCDC website for latest figures*

Today is the 7th day of the meningitis vaccination campaign in Zamfara, the state worst affected by the meningitis outbreak that has taken the lives of 438 people (as at 5th April) according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Cases of meningitis have been reported in 16 states and the five states most affected are in the North-West and North-central zones (Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Niger). Children between the ages of 5 and 14 are the most affected age group and account for more than half of the cases.

Nigeria has obtained 500,000 doses of the polysaccharide vaccine that protects against A and C serogroups of the bacteria from the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision (ICG) for reactive vaccination in Zamfara, which has had a large turnout. Sokoto and Katsina, other states badly affected, have also made applications to the ICG.

Neisseria meningitidis serogroup C (Nm C), accounts for 83% of the laboratory-confirmed cases in this outbreak. The first case of this kind was reported in December last year in Zamfara, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Sadly, this is not the first time that Nigeria has experienced a meningitis outbreak. In 2009, Nigeria was one of the countries particularly badly affected by the West African meningitis outbreak. The main serogroup responsible was group A and in Nigeria, 562 deaths were reported over a three-month period with cases in twenty-two out of the thirty-six states. Nigeria is situated in the meningitis belt, which stretches across the breadth of Africa, from The Gambia to Eritrea. Africa is particularly susceptible to meningitis due to a range of conditions including: medical, demographic, socioeconomic and climatic.

From 2011 to 2014, Nigeria held mass campaigns with a serogroup A vaccine called MenAfriVac®. MenAfriVac® is a conjugate vaccine that is currently being rolled out in all 26 of the Meningitis Belt nations. According to PATH, by 2020 the vaccine will have protected almost all of those living within the meningitis belt from MenA, and in doing so, will have prevented 1 million cases of meningitis A, some 150,000 deaths. Whilst this is brilliant news, it is only applicable to those who contract this particular serogroup, just one of the many strains of meningitis. This vaccine would not have protected against the majority of the 3,959 suspected cases during this current outbreak.

Other serogroups have caused outbreaks in meningitis belt countries, most recently Togo, which had an outbreak due to Neisseria meningitidis serogroup W, with 127 deaths reported in 2016 (WHO).

Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, CEO of NCDC, explained during a brief to the Senate committee on primary health care and communicable diseases, "Type C strain of the disease is new to West Africa hence the seeming unpreparedness to tackle it".

Meningococcal disease can be prevented with vaccines, and at CoMO, we advocate for the availability of vaccines to all those who need them. Meningitis is a complex disease with many causes and can affect anyone at any time. The CoMO Chair of the Scientific Advisory Group and Europe Africa Regional Representative, Professor James Stuart stated, "This outbreak in Nigeria highlights the need for more vaccines that give long-lasting protection as part of a preventative vaccination strategy, rather than having to rely on reactive mass vaccination campaigns".

*UPDATE: Please see NCDC website for latest figures*

For more information about the Men C vaccine and it's use in the meningitis belt, click here.

For more information about MenAfriVac®, click here.


Written by Lucy Swain

Lucy is the Events and Communications Officer at CoMO. She is a graduate from the University of Liverpool, where she studied French and Hispanic Studies. Lucy has experience working for a range of organisations in the charity sector both in the UK and overseas.

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