In the West African country of Benin this week, mothers will bind their youngest children to their backs with bright pieces of cloth. Shopkeepers will pull closed the metal doors that secure their businesses. Young people will mount their bicycles or motor scooters and join the migration toward the local health center, village meeting place, or perhaps a simple table set up under the biggest shade trees.
If history is any indication, nearly everyone between the ages of 1 and 29 in Benin will get in line for MenAfriVac®, a vaccine that has eliminated deadly meningitis A in the first countries to receive it. By the end of this year’s vaccination campaigns, we expect that some 100 million people in ten countries will be protected from a disease that regularly sweeps through the 26 countries of the African meningitis belt in epidemics that can kill tens of thousands.
In the years to come, as more countries introduce the vaccine and more people line up to receive it, we expect those epidemics will end.
A shot worth having
The people of Benin are planning a celebration to welcome MenAfriVac®. Officials will parade, dignitaries will speak, and it’s likely a group will be escorted to the front of the crowd to receive the first doses. Nearly two years ago—in the musically named Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso—I watched as other children proudly marched before different dignitaries, endured the first shots of the first MenAfriVac® vaccination campaign, dried their tears, and resumed chasing each other around the city’s main square, thrilled to be outside on such a sunny and optimistic morning.
You can learn more about the Meningitis Vaccine Project and Burkina Faso in this video.
At PATH, we created a counter to keep track of the people receiving vaccinations in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, and an expanding list of countries where people once feared death and disability brought by meningitis A. We’re unabashedly proud that the vaccine was developed by the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a collaboration between PATH and the World Health Organization that involved partners on four continents.
Those partners, including manufacturer Serum Institute of India, Ltd., worked together to bring a badly needed vaccine to Africa in less than a decade and at a price that’s a fraction of the cost of most new vaccines. MenAfriVac® costs less than 50 cents a dose—an affordable price for low-income countries and just one of the vaccine’s remarkable attributes.
The latest good news: herd immunity
While the people of Benin are getting their shots this week, a few members of the Meningitis Vaccine Project team are in Atlanta, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. They’re announcing the latest good news about MenAfriVac®, including research that suggests that in Burkina Faso, the bacteria causing meningitis A have disappeared from the noses and throats of those too old or too young to have received the vaccine—what public health officials call herd immunity. They’re also announcing that the vaccine has proven to be stable without refrigeration for up to four days—a major advantage in regions without reliable access to electricity.
Meanwhile, we’ll have our eyes on Africa, waiting for our MenAfriVac® counter to click over to 100 million protected so far. Join us in the celebration.
- Jolayne Houtz is the content manager at PATH.