Geneva: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday launched the first-ever global strategy to defeat meningitis — a debilitating disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.
The Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030, launched at a virtual event, aims to eliminate epidemics of bacterial meningitis — the most deadly form of the disease — and to reduce deaths by 70 per cent and halve the number of cases.
In total, the strategy could save more than 200,000 lives annually and significantly reduce disability caused by the disease by 2030.
“Wherever it occurs, meningitis can be deadly and debilitating; it strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences, and causes devastating outbreaks,” WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a statement.
“It is time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all – by urgently expanding access to existing tools like vaccines, spearheading new research and innovation to prevent, detecting and treating the various causes of the disease, and improving rehabilitation for those affected,” he added.
Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, predominantly caused by infection with bacteria and viruses.
The bacterial infection tends to be the most serious — leading to around 250,000 deaths a year — and can cause fast-spreading epidemics. It kills 1 in 10 of those infected — mostly children and young people — and leaves 1 in 5 with long-lasting disability, such as seizures, hearing and vision loss, neurological damage, and cognitive impairment.
While several vaccines protect against meningitis, including meningococcal, Haemophilus influenzae type b and pneumococcal vaccines, not all communities have access to these life saving vaccines, and many countries are yet to introduce them into their national programmes.
The new roadmap details the following priorities for meningitis response and prevention: achievement of high immunisation coverage, development of new affordable vaccines, and improved prevention strategies and outbreak response; speedy diagnosis and optimal treatment for patients; good data to guide prevention and control efforts; care and support for those affected, focusing on early recognition and improved access to care and support for after-effects; and advocacy and engagement, to ensure high awareness of meningitis, accountability for national plans, and affirmation of the right to prevention, care and after-care services.
WHO launched the strategy along with a broad coalition of partners involved in meningitis prevention and control. They include PATH, UNICEF, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and University College London.