The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 9,975 suspected cases of meningitis, including 541 deaths, were reported by 20 out of 26 countries in the Africa Meningitis Belt in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
This was announced at an annual WHO meeting which opened in Accra last Tuesday to further strategise on how to combat the meningitis outbreak in Africa.
This year’s edition of the annual meeting on surveillance, preparedness and response to meningitis outbreak in Africa is the 18th edition.
The African meningitis belt is a region in sub-Saharan Africa where the rate of incidence of meningitis is very high.
It comprises of The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The two-day meeting provided a platform for stakeholders to assess the progress of the previous year’s interventions, identify challenges and strategise to improve on early detection, investigation and confirmation of epidemics and how to respond appropriately, including vaccination of vulnerable populations.
It brought together health experts, organisations, policy makers, researchers and development partners and other stakeholders from the international community to discuss how to combat meningitis in Africa.
The Coordinator for Immunisation and Vaccines Development Programme for the WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO AFRO), Dr. Richard Mihigo, said stakeholders involved in the battle against meningitis epidemic met every year to discuss how to boost efforts at combating such conditions in Africa in order to better prepare and respond to any potential meningitis epidemic season.
The Minister of Health, Mr. Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, said the country was committed to collaborating with other African governments, the WHO and other stakeholders to combat meningitis on the continent and improve on the general health of the people.
He said in spite of the progress made towards eliminating epidemic meningitis in Africa, it was not yet a reality.
“This meeting on surveillance and preparedness is an opportunity to develop strategies to strengthen prevention, detection and response to epidemic meningitis.
“In the season, a number of countries reached the alert threshold, while two countries — including Ghana — unfortunately recorded epidemics. However, it is important to note that no Neisseria Meningitis type A case had been recorded in Ghana since 2017 after its introduction into routine immunisation,” he said.
Mr. Agyeman-Manu said countries had pledged to strengthen surveillance, assess risks, organise prevention, detection and response campaigns with a new meningococcal, a conjugate vaccine, and a fast track introduction of the vaccine into routine immunisation programme.
“To date, more than 300 people have been vaccinated in the meningitis belt of sub-Saharan Africa. Thanks to the efforts of all, including health professionals, development partners and other stakeholders, Serogroup A meningitis has been successfully controlled through mass vaccination campaigns,” he said.
Lesson from pandemic
The WHO Country Representative, Dr. Francis Kasolo, said the COVID-19 pandemic had taught us that it was important to make the health system resilient so that essential services were not compromised while responding to shocks from public health emergencies.
“This meeting creates an opportunity to learn from other countries’ experiences and best practices on how they prepared and responded to epidemic meningitis outbreaks in the past season. The information sharing experiences will help to improve our collective efforts to prevent, detect and respond to meningitis outbreaks in the coming season, as well as help all of us to embrace innovative ways in this response,” he said.