Kenya: Ministry in Bid to Curb Meningitis With New Vaccine

The Health ministry has launched a new vaccine meant to protect people against meningitis A in five target counties as part of routine immunisation.

The injectable vaccine will be given in Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera West-Pokot and Wajir, areas considered to be at high risk of contracting meningitis.

SPINAL CORD

These counties are considered to be at high risk of infection since they border Southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda -- which lie within the meningitis transmission belt.

The campaign, launched at Lodwar County Referral Hospital yesterday, will target an estimated three million people aged between one and 29 years, the ministry said.

The vaccine will also be given in selected immunisation posts during the campaign period, including schools, universities, churches, mosques and any other identified sites in the community.

Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the protective membranes (meninges) that surround the brain and spinal cord.

The bacteria is transmitted from person-to-person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers.

Symptoms of the disease include intense headache and fever, sensitivity to light and muscular rigidity, leading (in severe cases) to convulsions, hallucination and death.

Close and prolonged contact -- such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone, or living in close quarters (such as a dormitory) and sharing eating or drinking utensils with an infected person -- facilitates the spread of the disease whose average incubation period is four days.

There are six primary strains of meningitis bacteria that cause meningococcal disease: A, B, C, W, X and Y.

While side-effects of the meningitis vaccine are rare, the ministry advised caregivers to report any serious cases to the nearest hospital for guidance.

EPIDEMIC

Common side effects include pain in the injection site, redness and mild fever which usually last no more than one or two days.

The Northern part of the country was marked as one of the 26 areas with the highest rate of meningitis.

The highest burden of the disease is in the meningitis belt of Sub-Saharan Africa, stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. Around 30,000 cases are still reported each year from that area.

In Kenya, the eight affected areas are Turkana, Pokot, Mandera, Laisamis, Marsabit, Moyale, Chalbi and Wajir North, which in total have a population of about 1,435,384.

In 2016, global vaccine experts and officials from the African "meningitis belt" convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to celebrate the introduction of a vaccine, MenAfriVac®, designed, developed and produced for use in Africa.

The vaccine was developed by the World Health Organisation in partnership with PATH in response to a call for help from African ministers of health after one of the worst epidemics.

Cases of the deadly infectious disease went from over 250,000 during an outbreak in 1996 to just 80 confirmed cases in 2015 among countries that had not yet conducted mass immunisation campaigns and among those unvaccinated.

In 2008, the Gavi Alliance approved support to immunise the at-risk population (aged one through 29 years) in the 26 meningitis belt countries with preventive campaigns.

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