The World Health Organization and its partners, on Tuesday launched the first-ever global strategy dedicated towards fighting meningitis, tagged the Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030. The launch event was held virtually hosted by the WHO in Geneva.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and according to the WHO, the disease kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.
The aim of the global strategy is to eliminate the epidemics of bacterial meningitis, the deadliest form of the disease, by 2030. This in turn is expected to reduce deaths by 70% and decrease the number of cases in half.
What the WHO is saying
According to the publication posted on the official website, the organization estimates that the strategy could save more than 200,000 lives annually and could significantly reduce disabilities as a result of the disease as it focuses on preventing infections and improving care and diagnosis for those affected.
At the launch event, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said that, “Wherever it occurs, meningitis can be deadly and debilitating; it strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences, and causes devastating outbreaks. It is time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all –by urgently expanding access to existing tools like vaccines, spearheading new research and innovation to prevent, detecting and treating the various causes of the disease, and improving rehabilitation for those affected.”
Sub-saharan Africa, also regarded to as the ‘Meningitis Belt’ has recorded the highest cases of meningitis epidemic in the world over the past ten years, as stated in the publication.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, commented on this, saying that, “More than half a billion Africans are at risk of seasonal meningitis outbreaks but the disease has been off the radar for too long”.
“This shift away from firefighting outbreaks to strategic response can’t come soon enough. This roadmap will help protect the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of families who every year fear this disease”, she stated.
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The publication states that although research is underway to develop vaccines for other causes of meningitis, such as Group B Strep bacteria, several other vaccines that protect against meningitis have been produced. These vaccines include the meningococcal, Haemophilus influenzae type b and pneumococcal vaccines.
However, for some communities, access to these vaccines is limited or are yet to be integrated into national programmes.
The World Health Organization has said that there remains an urgent need for innovation, funding and research to develop more meningitis-preventive vaccines. Efforts are also needed to strengthen early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for all those who need it after contracting the disease.