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Quick Action On Meningitis Vaccine As Epidemic Of New Strain Emerges - 2003-02-06

Just months after an epidemic of a new strain of meningitis emerged in Africa, a new vaccine is being made available. The approval, manufacture and delivery process was done in record time. It’s due to a unique partnership of the World Health Organization, GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceuticals and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the linings of the brain and spinal cord. The WHO says, “Meningitis outbreaks occur almost every year during the dry season” in the meningitis belt, which spans from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. It says last year there were more than 44-thousand cases of the disease with more than 55-hundred deaths reported.

100,000 doses of the vaccine are being shipped to Burkina Faso where over 1,300 cases of the new strain of the disease, W135, have been confirmed So far, over 240 people have died.

Dr. Daniel Tarantola, the WHO’s director of vaccines, says the new vaccine protects against all three groups of meningitis bacteria, including the new W135 strain. The cost is $1.50 per dose. That price is good for the first three million doses. Dr. Tarantola says after that the price will have to be renegotiated, and hopefully, lowered even further. Normally, the price is about $5.00 per dose.

From Geneva, he spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the speed with which the vaccine is being made available.