April 20, 2012 | The Editors

Why Ida’s in line for vaccine

World Immunization Week begins tomorrow, which gives organizations like ours the chance to highlight the lifesaving record of immunization and encourage families to vaccinate their children against deadly diseases.

Woman in orange shirt with baby strapped to her lower back.
Ida Tapsoba and her daughter, Ariane. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

But it’s one thing for us to tell you immunization is a lifesaver. It’s another to hear Ida Tapsoba talk about its value.

A “big problem”

We met Ida during Burkina Faso’s 2010 vaccination campaign against meningococcal A meningitis. She was standing in line to get immunized at a village health center, her 13-month-old daughter wrapped tight to her back with a colorful piece of cloth.

Getting meningitis, an infection of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is a big problem, Ida told us as she waited for her shot.

It’s a problem because treating a sick child can consume a third of a family’s disposable income; because even survivors are at risk of serious disabilities like brain damage and hearing loss; because one in ten people who get the disease die, typically within a day or two of falling sick.

Who will vaccines save tomorrow? See our video.

To find a lifesaver

More than 25,000 people died and more than 250,000 were sickened when the largest meningitis A epidemic ever recorded spread through sub-Saharan Africa in 1996 and 1997. That horrific toll eventually led to the formation of the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a collaboration between PATH and the World Health Organization.

In less than a decade, MVP developed and delivered a vaccine against meningitis A. Called MenAfriVac, the vaccine was designed specifically for Africa at a price resource-strapped health systems could afford: less than US$.50 a dose.

To date, more than 54.5 million people have received the vaccine. Eventually, MenAfriVac™ will reach some 320 million people in Africa’s “meningitis belt” and potentially end epidemic meningitis there forever.

A somber listing

To understand just how important immunization is, ask anyone standing in line for MenAfriVac™ if they know someone sickened by meningitis. Yes, they say, a friend killed at age 17. An aunt who survived, but who is now deaf. A sister’s 10-year-old boy, dead. A little brother, taken at age 7.

For Ida, it was her own baby boy, taken ill when he was just a year old. Ida  shudders at the memory. The sickness lasted three days. But on the fourth day, her son improved, and he survived. He’s four years old now, and in good health.

By now Ida is at the head of the line, and she and her daughter are about to be vaccinated.

Ida smiles.

To read more about Ida and others who have benefited from vaccines, visit our story gallery.

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