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Meningitis Breaks Out in Northern Ivory Coast


Health care workers in Ivory Coast say there has been an outbreak of meningitis behind rebel lines in the northern part of the country. Health care workers in the North have been struggling to reestablish the health care system there.

Civilians in the rebel-held town of Bouna are facing a meningitis epidemic that has killed over 60 people in the last month. The area is in a region held by rebels who failed to topple President Laurent Gbagbo in September 2002 but still occupy the northern half of the West African country.

Health professionals fear the situation will get worse because few doctors and nurses are in the region to help stem the spread of the disease. In addition, meningitis is easily transmitted through direct contact. The disease causes an infection in the spinal fluid and brain and, in severe cases, it can cause brain damage, even death.

A doctor with the United Nations children's agency, Leonard Kouadio, says that UNICEF warned in a report published at the end of January of the likelihood of this outbreak.

Dr. Kouadio says the report was submitted to the Ivory Coast ministry of health and it was up to the government to declare an epidemic, and mobilize resources to vaccinate people.

Since fighting began in 2002, health structures in the north and the west of the country suffered, because 80 percent of doctors and nurses fled villages for the relative safety of large towns.

Despite the breakdown of medical care, some areas in the region seem to have managed.

A doctor in the health center in the northern town of Korhogo, Dr. Abel Guede said that during the crisis his health center was still able to function.

Dr. Guede says that during the crisis the center depended on the attendants who helped doctors and nurses. Although they did not know everything, they knew enough to provide people with basic services including vaccinations.

UNICEF has been trying to encourage government-employed health workers to go back to the north for the past two years, reassuring them that it is safe to work there. And, they have had some success.

Since a country-wide vaccination campaign in 2004, some 28 vaccination centers have reopened providing free vaccinations for mothers and babies. Vaccines for most childhood disease are given free but meningitis vaccines cost three dollars per shot, too much for most people to afford.

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