Burkina Faso first to receive African meningitis vax

MenAfriVac, a meningitis A vaccine created by the Serum Institute of India, will be dispensed to Burkina Faso's 12 million residents starting Dec. 6. It's the first in the WHO's continent-wide vaccination program, a $550 million venture that should innoculate 450 million people against meningitis by 2015. Meningitis A infected more than 78,000 in sub-Saharan Africa's "meningitis belt" last year, causing 4,053 deaths.

The affordable vaccine costs approximately 50 U.S. cents per dose, much less than the $120 for similar vaccines.

"The impact of this vaccine will be truly enormous," said Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, the WHO's director of vaccines, to Reuters. "This will affect the lives of 450 million people who are at risk of this disease in the African meningitis belt."

Meningitis A outbreaks tend to occur during Africa's dry season from January to March. In the past, polysaccharide vaccines were used, but they only protect those vaccinated for a year, and have been ineffective against meningitis outbreaks.

- see the Reuters article