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Meningococcal meningitis is a highly contagious bacterial form of meningitis – a serious inflammation of the meninges – the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial infection of the thin membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can cause sudden and intense headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and stiffness of the neck. Death can follow within hours of the onset of symptoms. Even with treatment, approximately 10 percent of people infected will die. Up to 50 percent of people infected will die without treatment.

April 2017. Meningitis vaccination campaign in Niamey region. People are queuing to access the vaccination site set up in their neighborhood by MSF’s emergency team.


Meningitis: "When I was younger, I got meningitis. It affected my vision"

02 June 2017

For yet another year, Nigeria and Niger are facing severe outbreaks of meningitis C. Both countries are part of the ‘meningitis belt’, a region that stretches across the continent from Senegal to Ethiopia, and is particularly affected by the disease during the dry season. From 13 December 2016 to 14 May 2017, a total of 13,943 suspected cases and 1,112 deaths of meningitis have been reported from 24 states in Nigeria, according to WHO. In Niger, between 1 January and 7 May, there were 179 deaths from meningitis out of a total of 3,037 recorded cases, mainly in the west of the country, according to the Ministry of Health.

MSF has supported the Ministry of Health response in Nigeria and Niger, with surveillance, case management and helping with the vaccination of more than 740,400 people in both countries. Meningitis outbreaks are recurrent in this region and vaccination would be the best solution for avoiding them. Unfortunately, there is insufficient vaccine production to preventively vaccinate against meningitis C, the most common serogroup in the region in the last years although there are also cases from other serogroups in these outbreaks.

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The lack of diagnostics and available treatments are the main challenges"

With a country of 183 million people, it is a challenge to swiftly identify diseases with a potential epidemic character. People are not always aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease and therefore do not seek treatment in time. The main challenges are the limited number of vaccines available to protect the population, the lack of early diagnostics and treatment, and the limited knowledge of the disease within the population

Nigeria is part of what they call sub-Saharan Africa’s ‘meningitis belt’ with repeated outbreaks of meningitis. The meningitis belt stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, crossing 26 countries in the process and has the highest rates of the disease in Africa. On average, vaccines provide coverage for three years and therefore immunity to this disease is only temporary. With around 300 million people in the belt, it is difficult to maintain this protection.

An MSF worker controls the queue of children waiting to be vaccinated against meningitis in Damaturu, northern Nigeria.

Vaccination Shortage

Since February MSF has been active in the field supporting the Nigerian Ministry of Health to diagnose cases by collecting samples to confirm the type of meningitis through rapid laboratory tests. They have trained medical staff, donated antibiotics to treatment centers, and helped find new cases to reduce morbidity and mortality. MSF have been supporting two treatment centers in Sokoto and Zamfara states and between 1 and 8 May, supported the Ministry of Heath with their vaccination campaign in Sokoto.

April 2017. Meningitis vaccination campaign in Niamey region. An MSF nurse preparing the syringe with the vaccine. 

The Journey of vaccines

From the time the vaccines leave Europe until vaccinators use them in the field, there is a long journey, in which dozens of people participate, and we need to ensure the material is supervised at all times. Once the vaccines are flown into the capital of Nigeria, Abuja, MSF officials organise a special reception at the customs office to prevent them from being retained for long. From there, they are transported in refrigerated trucks to a cold room in the Ministry of Health, where distribution to the basis of the state of Yobe is organised.