Updated: Jul 22
17 September 2015
Did you know that, globally, every year more than 1.7 million people contract meningitis? Bacterial meningitis is the most severe type of meningitis and, when it is caused by a bacteria called the meningococcus, it can be accompanied by septicaemia, which is the most severe form of meningococcal disease…and we mean severe. Around 5-10% of cases of people who have contracted these diseases will sadly be fatal, with a further 20% of cases leaving the individual with some form of permanent disability, such as cerebral palsy, seizures, hearing loss, motor impairment and loss of vision - just to name a few! Clearly, the cost of meningitis is huge…and not just for the individual who contracted the disease, but for families and loved ones too.
What do we mean then when we talk about the cost of meningitis? If you think we are purely referring to the medical costs of treating someone with the disease, then think again, sadly the costs run much higher than this. Here at CoMO, when we refer to the cost of meningitis, we refer to three key areas: physical, intellectual and, something that is not often quantified, the emotional cost.
The physical cost of meningitis includes those financial implications associated with treatment of the disease and its after-effects; such as needing hospital stays, surgery, life-long care, equipment and government support.
The intellectual cost relates to issues like learning disabilities, behavioural impacts and brain damage.
The emotional cost relates to the personal effect that the disease has had on survivors and their families, as well as bereaved families. These emotional costs include the acute levels of stress that is suffered, and a reduced quality of life.
That’s a lot of costs to take into account, isn’t it? And interestingly, many people are not actually aware of these long-term costs associated with meningitis and septicaemia. If we just focus on the physical costs for a moment, how much would you say it might cost a hospital to treat a patient who was suffering from these diseases? Well, a severe case of meningococcal disease can lead to hospital stays of up to 5 or 6 months! This stay can cost the hospital between £160,000-£200,000 ($246,848 or €219,949-$308,561 or €274,937)!
If this is just the amount for the original hospital stay, then how much would you say it costs the government to provide the necessary amenities to a meningitis or septicaemia survivor over the course of a life-time? Go on…have a guess. It costs the government between £1,360,000 and £1,720,000 ($2,097,596 or almost €1,869,129 and $2,651,939 or almost €2,363,663), that’s a phenomenal amount, right? And we haven’t even got started yet on the intellectual and emotional costs!
So, what do the emotional costs look like? Well, to begin with, did you know that families with disabled children are more likely to suffer the effects of ill health compared to families with non-disabled children? This is because stress-related illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, are scientifically proven to be more likely to affect families of disabled children, and it has been reported that healthy siblings of disabled children are more likely to experience emotional and behavioural problems too. Coupled with the higher living costs of caring for a disabled child, this leads to the fact that families with a disabled child are 4 times more likely to live in poverty, as opposed to families with non-disabled children. Caring for a child who has suffered with either meningitis or septicaemia can, of course, put a huge strain on other relationships in the family too.
According to a report written by the UK Charity, Meningitis Research Foundation, until very recently there has been absolutely no literature in the UK that details the costs of caring for and treating survivors of meningococcal disease. This purely re-emphasises that more needs to be done to combat meningitis and septicaemia. Moreover, across Europe there are a number of poor health surveillance systems in place, in fact one country does not even record the number of people over the age of 5 who lose their lives to meningococcal disease! Here at CoMO, we strongly believe that everyone everywhere needs to know that meningitis and septicaemia are a threat and that, above all, that many cases can be PREVENTED through VACCINATIONS!
Just in case you’re feeling a bit bombarded with statistics, we’ll give you a real life example to help make it easier for you to understand the true cost of meningitis and septicaemia. This example is taken from a Meningitis Research Foundation report and refers to a personal story from one of their members. Let’s call this member Daisy for now.
Daisy contracted septicaemia as a young infant. From this point onwards she suffered with profound deafness and she required a wheelchair to help her move around. She needed full-time care as a result of the effects of septicaemia and this required one of her parents to give-up work. She lived with her parents until the age of 40, when sadly, her parents became too frail to care for her anymore and thus, she was forced to move into a residential home, meaning that Daisy was away from her family.
This is a tragic story and our heart goes out to Daisy and her family. Surely then, you can see that vaccinations are a critical component of the efforts to reduce illness and death? As the European Commission states ‘vaccination…is unquestionably one of the most cost-effective public health measures available’. Vaccination is among the most successful and cost-effective of ALL public health interventions and thus, everyone should acknowledge its importance and from here, exercise their right to vaccination.
As CoMO says: ‘ANYONE can get meningitis, therefore EVERYONE has the right to access prevention and treatment’. To show your support please use #LifeCourseImmunisation on anything you post relevant to life-course vaccination. We all have a part to play in educating society that life-course vaccination saves lives, and you can help, by supporting us on social media. After all, the cost of meningitis is too steep to bear alone, and together, we can do something about this.
Counting the Cost, available at: http://www.meningitis.org/ctc (Change to new)
Robert Booy, 'The Cost of Meningitis Project'
Natalie is a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham, where she studied International Relations with French. She has particular expertise in the international political economy and its relation with international healthcare organisations. She is an intern at CoMO, where she is currently working on the Life-Course Immunisation Initiative.