Vaccine a Big Success Against Meningitis in Uganda


This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Meningitis is an infection of the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord. Both bacteria and viruses can cause it. Viral meningitis is the more common form, but bacterial meningitis is more dangerous.

Each year, almost four hundred thousand children under the age of five die from meningitis caused by a bacterium known as Hib. Millions more suffer hearing loss, brain damage or other disabilities as a result of the disease.

Hib, or Haemophilus influenzae type b, requires intensive treatment with antibiotics. But most of the children are poor and live in developing countries.

Hib vaccines for babies have been available since nineteen ninety-one. But for most of that time, their use was limited to industrial countries, mostly because of cost.

Uganda began widespread child vaccinations against Hib in two thousand two. Now, a study has found that in areas where cases were counted, the disease rate fell by eighty-five percent in the first four years. Then it fell to zero in two thousand six.

Scientists from the government, the World Health Organization, a French agency and others have been studying the campaign. They estimate that the program now prevents thirty thousand severe infections and five thousand deaths in children under five each year. Their report is to be published next month in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.

The GAVI Alliance paid for the vaccines. GAVI was formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. This alliance of private and public interests was created in two thousand to widen the availability of immunizations.

With GAVI support, Uganda provided sixteen and a half million doses of Hib vaccine nationwide from two thousand two to two thousand six.

Other studies have found similar results with Hib vaccines in countries including Bangladesh, Kenya and Gambia. But the executive secretary of the alliance, Julian Lob-Levyt, says this is the first time the group has seen rates drop to zero.

Uganda chose to use an injection that contains vaccines against five diseases: Hib as well as diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and hepatitis B.

In November, the GAVI board approved additional financing to pay for Hib vaccine in a total of forty-four countries.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. For more health news, and for transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports, go to I'm Steve Ember.