The highest concentration of cases and deaths from meningitis was found in the sub-Saharan African countries that are collectively known as the “meningitis belt”. This is despite huge progress in reducing meningococcal group A disease by 99% in the meningitis belt through the MenAfriVac vaccination programme. 

The global disease burden of meningitis remains unacceptably high especially in Africa, and progress lags substantially behind  other vaccine-preventable diseases, warns a new analysis published in The Lancet Neurology. Globally cases of meningitis increased, from 2.5 million in 1990 to 2.82 million in 2016, due to increased population size.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Global Burden of Disease study showed that meningitis deaths reduced by just 21% globally between 1990 – 2016. Other preventable diseases such as measles, tetanus, and diarrhoea due to rotavirus declined by 93.0%, 90.7%, and 57.9%, respectively, thus progress in meningitis could have been substantially faster.

Meningitis Research Foundation, co-authors of the analysis, state that to make faster progress, particular attention should be given to: developing vaccines with broader coverage against the bacterial causes of meningitis; making these vaccines affordable to the developing countries that are most affected; improving vaccine uptake; and improving interventions such as access to low-cost, rapid diagnostic tests and treatments.

Ongoing surveillance of the specific types of bacteria causing meningitis is said to be crucial to continue monitoring and reacting to meningitis burdens and trends throughout the world. Bacterial meningitis is a deadly disease that strikes without warning and can leave survivors with lifelong after effects as serious as deafness, blindness and brain damage. The paper states that better support for disabled or impaired survivors of this disease is vital.

IHME’s Dr. Nicholas J. Kassebaum, Professor of Health Metrics Sciences with the University of Washington, commented, “Declines in the incidence and mortality of meningitis have lagged far behind vaccine-preventable diseases, diarrhea and lower respiratory infections. It is likely that the growing number of meningitis survivors with lifelong disabilities are living in communities without the resources or programs to support them.”

Study author Linda Glennie from Meningitis Research Foundation said, “This research shows that a huge number of people are still being affected by this dreadful disease. Vaccination is the only way to prevent meningitis and despite major progress over the last 20 years, large epidemics have occurred recently showing again that meningitis is very far from being defeated.

Meningitis spreads around the world and we need a coordinated effort to defeat it. We need faster progress, similar to that achieved with measles, tetanus, and diarrhoea due to rotavirus. This year the World Health Organization launched an expert taskforce to develop a global roadmap to defeat meningitis by 2030, and MRF is delighted to be taking part. This taskforce is a crucial step towards defeating meningitis for good

Meningitis Research Foundation is a leading UK and international charity working to defeat meningitis wherever it exists. We fund and support vital scientific research. We campaign and provide information to the public, health professionals and researchers that promotes prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, and raises awareness of the diseases. We also provide direct support and ongoing personal help to individuals and families affected, whether they are living with impairment caused by the diseases or coping with the death of a loved one.

(Contacts; samanthaw@meningitis.org;    K kbien@uw.edu)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.