WHO launches strategy to fight meningitis and save 200,000 lives a year

The World Health Organization (WHO) today launched for the first time a global strategy to fight meningitis, with which it intends to save 200,000 lives a year.

The goal is to eliminate, by 2030, epidemics of bacterial meningitis, the most lethal, to reduce deaths by 70% and reduce the number of cases by half.

Health authorities estimate that it is possible to significantly reduce the disabilities caused by the disease.

The global strategy to fight meningitis by 2030 was launched by a coalition of partners involved in disease prevention and control during a virtual event organized by WHO in Geneva.

The plan is to prevent infections and improve care and diagnosis for infected people.

“When it happens, meningitis can be fatal and debilitating, strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences, and causes devastating outbreaks,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“It’s time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all, urgently expanding access to existing tools such as vaccines, developing new research and innovation to prevent, detect and treat the various causes of the disease, and improve the rehabilitation of those affected” , he added.

Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, predominantly caused by infection with bacteria and viruses.

Meningitis that is caused by bacterial infection tends to be the most serious, causing around 250,000 deaths a year and can give rise to rapidly spreading epidemics. It kills one in 10 infected, mostly children and young people, and leaves one in five sick with long-term ailments such as seizures, hearing and vision loss, neurological damage and cognitive difficulties.

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In the last 10 years, meningitis epidemics have occurred in all regions of the world, although more frequently in an area that covers 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

“These epidemics are unpredictable, they can severely affect health systems and create poverty, with catastrophic effects on families and communities”, underlined the WHO in the information released today.

“More than 500 million Africans are at risk of seasonal meningitis outbreaks, but the disease has been off the radar for a long time,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, quoted in the document issued by the organization.

Several vaccines protect against meningitis. However, not all communities have access to these vaccines and many countries are still introducing them into their national programmes.

Efforts are also needed to strengthen early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for all who need it after contracting the disease, according to WHO.