Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners launched the first-ever global strategy to end meningitis – a debilitating disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.
By 2030, the goals are to eliminate epidemics of bacterial meningitis – the deadliest form of the disease – and reduce deaths by 70% and halve the number of cases. Organizations estimate that in total, the strategy could save more than 200,000 lives per year and significantly reduce disability caused by the disease.
This strategy, the Global Roadmap to End Meningitis by 2030, was launched by a broad coalition of partners involved in meningitis prevention and control at a virtual event, hosted by WHO in Geneva . Its goal is to prevent infections and improve care and diagnosis for those affected.
“Wherever it occurs, meningitis can be fatal and debilitating; it strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences and causes devastating epidemics, ”said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“It’s time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all, urgently expanding access to existing tools like vaccines, conducting new research and innovations to prevent, detect and treat the various causes. disease and improve the rehabilitation of those affected.
Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, mainly caused by infection with bacteria and viruses.
Meningitis caused by bacterial infection tends to be the most serious – resulting in an estimated 250,000 deaths per year – and can lead to rapidly spreading epidemics. It kills 1 in 10 of those infected – mostly children and young people – and leaves 1 in 5 with long-lasting disabilities, such as seizures, hearing and visual loss, neurological damage and cognitive impairment.
Over the past decade, meningitis epidemics have occurred in all regions of the world, but most often in the “meningitis belt”, which spans 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. These epidemics are unpredictable, can severely disrupt health systems and create poverty, generating catastrophic expenses for households and communities.
“More than half a billion Africans are at risk of seasonal epidemics of meningitis, but the disease has been off the radar for too long,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for the Africa. “This shift from epidemics of firefighting to a strategic response cannot come soon enough. This roadmap will help protect the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of families who fear this disease every year. “
Several vaccines protect against meningitis, including vaccines against meningococcus, Haemophilus influenzae type b and pneumococcus. However, not all communities have access to these life-saving vaccines, and many countries have yet to introduce them into their national programs.
While research is underway to develop vaccines against other causes of meningitis, such as group B strep bacteria, there remains an urgent need for innovation, funding and research to develop more preventive meningitis vaccines. . Efforts are also needed to strengthen early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for all those who need it after contracting the disease.
“This roadmap is the embodiment of the ambition of the affected individuals and families around the world who called for its creation. It is their experience and their passion that drove a whole community of interests to go this far, ”said Vinny Smith, Executive Director of the Meningitis Research Foundation and the Confederation of Meningitis Organizations (CoMO), an international meningitis patient advocacy groups. “Together we are celebrating the common goal of overcoming meningitis and we will be guided by their inspiration to make it happen.”
The new roadmap details the following priorities for meningitis response and prevention:
Achieve high immunization coverage, develop new affordable vaccines and improve prevention strategies and response to epidemics; Rapid diagnosis and optimal treatment for patients; Good data to guide prevention and control efforts; Care and support for those affected, with a focus on early detection and improving access to care and support for sequelae, and Advocacy and engagement, to ensure high awareness of meningitis, accountability plans national policies and the affirmation of the right to prevention, care and aftercare services.
WHO and its partners are helping countries implement the road map, including through the development of regional and national frameworks that will help countries achieve their ambitious goals.
“The Global Roadmap to End Meningitis shows what can be accomplished when a global need is met through global action,” said Nikolaj Gilbert, President and CEO of PATH. “Progress against meningitis is overdue; by working together we can overcome the disease that has claimed so many lives in countries around the world. PATH is proud to have participated in the development of the roadmap and is committed to advancing affordable and equitable vaccine solutions to defeat meningitis.
“We must be united in our efforts to end all preventable childhood illnesses, including bacterial meningitis,” said Dr Aboubacar Kampo, director of health programs at UNICEF. “UNICEF has supported governments for decades, facilitating the distribution of life-saving meningitis vaccines. Yet far too many children are succumbing to this and other preventable illnesses – and the situation is only getting worse because of the pandemic. We must act decisively to strengthen primary health care and get routine immunization back on track, before more children face the health problems – or loss of life – caused by meningitis and other preventable infectious diseases.
“Although the main burden of meningitis is in poor countries, acute bacterial meningitis is a global problem from which no country is spared from its devastating impact,” said Professor Sir Brian Greenwood, Professor of Clinical Tropical Medicine at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and co-chair of the working group supporting the implementation of the roadmap.
“So, containing this serious group of infections requires a global response. This is what the roadmap aims to achieve, by bringing together – under the aegis of the WHO – health professionals from around the world to bring this disease under control by 2030. ”
“The meningitis roadmap provides a clear plan to beat this devastating disease,” said Professor Robert Heyderman, head of the infection research department at University College London. “This primarily identifies gaps in our knowledge and the necessary tools. To achieve the ambitious goals of the roadmap, a team approach will bring together countries, global policymakers, civil society, donors, researchers, public health specialists, health professionals and industry to generate and implement new innovative strategies.