CONAKRY, Guinea — The partnership of the Government of Guinea, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF completed a campaign to stop the outbreak of meningitis in Guinea. The initiative focused on the eastern part of the country where the disease is particularly prevalent, having caused over 52 deaths since January 2014.
Lasting six days, the campaign reached 95 percent of young people, ages 1 through 29, living in the highly-affected areas of Mandiana and Siguiri.
In addition to vaccinations, the campaign sought to prevent the spread of meningitis through education. Local teams used the radio to reach those in rural communities and ran community gatherings not only to direct the people to the vaccination clinics, but also to explain the dangers of meningitis for young people.
Meningitis is a deadly disease that inflames the protective tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. It is spread from person to person via the bacteria living in a infected person’s throat. Basic hygiene, such as proper hand washing and covering of the mouth when coughing or sneezing, is vital for the people of Guinea to learn and practice.
At first, the symptoms of meningitis seem nonthreatening and include headache, fever and stiff neck. But recognizing these signs quickly is another way to prevent the disease’s spread. The bacterial form of the illness is particularly dangerous and can cause severe brain damage and death if left untreated.
The experts at the WHO say the vaccination is the most efficient way to prevent and stop the spread of meningitis. And prior to the campaign, only about 35 percent of children were vaccinated.
The country of Guinea also faces many other health crises. With the recent outbreak of Ebola along with the prevalence of malaria, malnutrition and meningitis, the people of Guinea are exposed to multiple health risks. The success of the meningitis vaccination campaign is an important step in protecting the people–specifically children–from deadly disease.
Guinea is located in a part of Africa know as the “Meningitis Belt,” which is the region from Senegal to Ethiopia. Over the past 15 years, approximately 700,000 people in this region have been infected with meningitis, with a fatality rate of over 10 percent. The disease is seasonal and is most active during the dry season of December to June.
In Guinea, between 2005 and 2010, 831 suspected cases were reported with 16.7 percent lethality in the eastern region of the country. Since the beginning of 2014, over 539 cases and 52 deaths have been recorded. The high prevalence of the disease makes the vaccination campaign critical in helping to stop the outbreak.
The initiative, though highly successful, also faces many challenges. One primary challenge has been that the vaccine needs to stay refrigerated. The infrastructure within Guinea is poor and the supply of electricity is often unreliable. To its credit, the campaign has worked around these problems by altering the composition of the vaccine so that it requires less refrigeration.
During this short six-day period, UNICEF reports that the initiative was able to vaccinate over 1,153,000 people.