WHO Launches Global Action Against Meningitis

The World Health Organization (WHO) and partners have launched the first ever global strategy to defeat meningitis, a debilitating disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people, each year.

The goals are to eliminate epidemics of bacterial meningitis and to reduce deaths by 70% and halve the number of cases by 2030. WHO estimates that the strategy could save more than 200,000 lives annually and significantly reduce disability caused by the disease.

The Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030 was launched by a broad coalition of partners involved in meningitis prevention and control at a virtual event, hosted by WHO in Geneva. Its focus is on preventing infections and improving care and diagnosis for those affected.

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Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, predominantly caused by infection with bacteria and viruses.

Meningitis that is caused by 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.

In the last ten years, meningitis epidemics have occurred in all regions of the world, though most commonly in the ‘Meningitis Belt,’ which spans 26 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, more than half a billion Africans are at risk of seasonal meningitis outbreaks but the disease has been off the radar for too long.

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“This shift away from firefighting outbreaks to strategic response can’t come soon enough. This roadmap will help protect the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of families who every year fear this disease,” he stated.

Meningitis can be deadly and debilitating. It strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences, and causes devastating outbreaks.

Chief Executive Officer of the Meningitis Research Foundation and the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations, Vinny Smith said the roadmap is the embodiment of the ambition of people and families affected around the world who have called for its creation.

He noted that this experience and passion has driven a whole community of interest to get this far.

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