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Let's Defeat Meningitis Together

World Meningitis Day 2020

Today, as millions of people unite to mark World Meningitis Day, we join survivors, families, health professionals, patient groups, and medical organisations to raise awareness of the devastating impacts of meningitis - and the steps we can all take to defeat the disease.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the fluid and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Its causes are varied, and can include bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.

Meningitis affects millions of people around the world. In fact, meningitis (together with neonatal sepsis) causes more deaths in children younger than 5 years old than malaria.[1] For those who survive the disease, serious after-effects are common and can include brain injury, limb loss, hearing loss and organ damage.

Despite the devastating impacts of the disease, many countries don’t provide adequate prevention, treatment, disease surveillance or support for those affected.

However, 2020 is a milestone year, as the Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030 was accepted by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Executive Board and is noted as a potential topic at the World Health Assembly in May. The Roadmap is a WHO initiative, driven by the Meningitis Research Foundation and is reflective of the voices of survivors, impacted families and motivated people who are calling on their governments to acknowledge that enough is enough, and change is possible.

Driven by patient groups: CoMO and Member representatives from all over the world have been consulted to help shape the Roadmap so that we can defeat meningitis everywhere.

This globally coordinated plan sets out the actions required to ensure that no one has to experience the devastation this disease can cause. Now, more than ever, it is clear that everyone has a part to play in defeating meningitis.

"A world free from meningitis is a world we all deserve to live in." - Sarah Joyce, meningitis survivor and Founder of The Sarah Joyce Project, Australia

How can we defeat meningitis?

Prevention is key

Vaccines are the most effective method of prevention and save countless lives. This is particularly important with meningitis as its symptoms can be similar to the flu but someone's condition can rapidly deteriorate in just a few hours. With healthcare systems worldwide being overburdened due to the coronavirus, prevention is more important than ever.

“Meningococcal meningitis can kill in a matter of hours - with little to no warning - or cause lifelong disabilities. To help prevent it you need two types of meningitis vaccines (MenACWY and MenB). Few people know about both vaccines. That is why the Meningitis B Action Project works to empower young adults and their parents with the information they need to proactively discuss the vaccines with their healthcare providers. We lost our daughters to meningitis B and we don’t want one more family to have to endure the same fate. Talk to your doctor about both meningitis vaccines. Together, we can stop meningitis."

"Together, we can stop meningitis." - Patti Wukovits and Alicia Stillman, Meningitis B Action Project, USA

Diagnosis and Treatment

Not all types of meningitis are vaccine preventable, so it’s critical to know the signs and symptoms, as the disease is so quick to develop, and can kill in hours.

Kyaw Linn is a professor of paediatric neurology, working in Yongon children’s hospital, Myanmar. He sees cases of meningitis almost every day and has witnessed the after-effects it can have:

Bacterial meningitis is common in Myanmar. Late diagnosis and treatment can be due to a lack of knowledge about the disease, financial issues, and transport problems, as well as antibiotic resistance, a shortage of lab testing facilities and a resistance from families to lumbar punctures (because of misbeliefs about the test.)”

Disease Surveillance

Awareness is key to defeat meningitis. Many countries lack strong disease surveillance systems necessary to understand the full scale of the problem and how to respond.

Professor James Stuart, chair of CoMO’s Scientific Advisory Group, summarised why disease surveillance is so important for defeating meningitis.

“1. Prevention and control. In all countries and regions of the world, we need to know the numbers of meningitis cases and deaths over time, which age groups are most affected, which organisms and which strains are making people ill. This information is essential in order to target prevention and control measures most effectively, to make sure that the right vaccines are given to those most at risk, and to check that the numbers are falling as they should.

2. Treatment. Antimicrobial resistance is rising across the globe, so that surveillance of resistance is needed to make sure that the right treatments are recommended and used.

3. Support. Surveys to understand the level of disability from meningitis around the world are very important to ensure that those affected after meningitis receive the care that they need.”