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Red Cross/Red Crescent Seeks Funding for Meningitis Campaign in Ethiopia - 2002-02-22

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issued an appeal Thursday for $857,000 to stem a meningitis outbreak in Ethiopia. Some 39 million Ethiopians are at risk of exposure unless a mass vaccination campaign is funded.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says over 1,300 cases of meningitis have been reported since September of last year, with 85 deaths in central and southwestern Ethiopia. These areas have the highest population in the country.

Red Cross public health expert Dr. Bernard Moriniere said the meningitis season in Ethiopia will run until June. He warned that action must be taken quickly to halt the further spread of the disease. "It is currently spreading. In fact, we had a report three days ago that new cases were occurring in the north of the country," he said. "So what is hard to define is how wide the spread could be. It depends a lot on the control measures that are being implemented. If there is rapid mass vaccination in the affected districts, it can significantly limit and reduce the spread. If no intervention is done quickly, then it could continue to a wide number of additional districts from where it is now," he added.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. The disease often surfaces in Africa during the annual dry seasons.

Dr. Moriniere said the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is trying to obtain nearly two million doses of the meningitis vaccine to inoculate Ethiopians between the ages of two to 30 who are at the highest risk of contracting the disease.

Dr. Moriniere said the International Federation is working together with the Ethiopian Red Cross and government health services to make people aware of the danger and the need to be vaccinated. "The Ethiopian Red Cross, with the help of the Federation, will be providing vaccine to the health services to conduct this mass vaccination," he said, "and the Red Cross will provide its volunteers to do public information to raise awareness and the participation to the campaign."

Dr. Moriniere said the International Federation had already provided half-a-million doses of meningitis vaccine, but that stock is nearly exhausted. He said fast action is needed to avoid a repeat of the worst outbreaks of meningitis that took place in Ethiopia in 1981 and again in 1989 when more than 1,600 people died.