GAVI Alliance Commits $100 Million to Fight Meningitis
Hit frequently by epidemics, Africa's "meningitis belt" consists of 25 countries stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. A 1996/97 epidemic hit 250,000 people, of whom 25,000 died and 50,000 were left with varying forms of disability.
Developed at around 50 cents per dose, the new single-dose vaccine, MenAfriVac, specifically addresses group A meningococcal meningitis, responsible for over 85 percent of observed meningococcal meningitis in Africa.
"We accelerated our approvals process so that we can ensure this vaccine is available in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria, before next year's epidemic season due to start in December," says Helen Evans, interim CEO at the GAVI Alliance. "This is a breakthrough vaccine in the fight against meningitis A. If GAVI is fully funded for our 2011-2015 programme, this vaccine could save many lives and avoid the other terrible consequences of epidemics."
While Chad and Nigeria are both hyper-endemic - meaning they have high and continued incidence - northern Cameroon's location between the two countries means preventive immunisation there will help stop the spread of meningitis A epidemics.
The new vaccine was launched in Burkina Faso in December, and GAVI supported three other hyper-endemic countries - Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger - to introduce the vaccine in late 2010 ahead of this year's epidemic season. These countries have seen significantly fewer meningitis A cases during this year's epidemic than during the 2009/2010 season, according to WHO data.
At week 14 of the epidemic season, Burkina Faso had seen just two laboratory-confirmed cases of meningitis A versus 42 for the same period last year. Both cases this season were for unvaccinated individuals.
The US$100 million released includes US$ 72.6 million for the vaccines plus US$ 27.6 million for operational costs. The countries themselves will also contribute to the operational costs.
GAVI's contribution is in addition to other GAVI contributions of US$ 29.5 million for MenAfriVac's introduction in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger and of US$ 55.2 million for a vaccine stockpile.
GAVI funding for meningitis A is part of a US$ 571 million regional strategy to defeat meningitis A in Africa's meningitis belt. If fully funded, GAVI's total contribution will be US$ 370.4 million.
On 13 June, the UK Government will host a pledging conference in London, asking donors to contribute US$ 3.7 billion to help GAVI fund the immunisation of 243 million children by 2015 with a range of vaccines, including the new vaccine against meningitis A.
MenAfriVac's development took less than 10 years following a request from African health ministers. It involved a US$ 70 million Gates Foundation grant, technology transfer from the US government to the Serum Institute of India, and a joint project involving the international nonprofit PATH and WHO, called the Meningitis Vaccine Project.
"We are grateful for GAVI's support and hope that international donors will come forward and make it possible for the Alliance to help fund further rollout of MenAfriVac in the years to come so that by 2015, all 25 countries of the meningitis belt will be protected against group A meningitis," says Dr. Marc LaForce, Director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project.
Not only might the vaccine prevent as many as 150,000 deaths by 2015, but, by checking the spread of disease, it will also save hundreds of thousands of people from falling deeper into poverty.
Many of the meningitis belt's hyperendemic countries are among the world's very poorest, even if they have not suffered conflict. Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, are ranked 161, 160, and 167 out of 169 respectively on the UN's Human Development Index 2010.
A study conducted in Burkina Faso in 2006/2007 found that households spend US$ 90 on medical care per meningitis case - equal to 34 percent of the average annual household income (or four months' worth). When sequelae occurred, that figure went as high as US$ 154.
The total cost per dose for 2011 is $ 0.67. This includes the price of the vaccine and the cost of injection safety devices (syringes and safety boxes) as well as shipping costs for the vaccines and devices to the countries.
Distribution of the vaccine to Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria is due in the third and fourth quarters of this year, prior to the epidemic season in 2012 which runs from January to May.
The GAVI Alliance is a Geneva-based public-private partnership aimed at improving health in the world's poorest countries. The Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry in both industrialised and developing countries, research and technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private philanthropists. GAVI support consists of providing life-saving vaccines and strengthening health systems. In its first decade of work, GAVI has financed the immunisation of more than 288 million children and prevented more than 5 million premature deaths.