At a global meeting of experts organised by Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) and Wilton Park, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a renewed effort to help defeat meningitis.
The meeting highlighted the urgent need for a global meningitis vision and strategy. WHO recognised its key role in meningitis prevention over the last decade and announced plans to bring together global expertise to develop a roadmap for eliminating meningitis epidemics from the ‘meningitis belt’ in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. The intent is to also work with partners, including MRF, in a bid to extend the scope to other countries around the world, and to help tackle the many different causes of meningitis.
It is estimated that around half a million children under five still die of meningitis and septicaemia worldwide every year. In May 2017, MRF called together over 50 global experts for a three-day meeting to shape a vision towards defeating meningitis and septicaemia. This unique opportunity created a strong call for global action and encouraged discussion between senior health officials, policy makers, scientists and clinicians from countries affected by meningitis, as well as representatives from WHO, UNICEF, PATH, Médecins Sans Frontières, CDC, Gavi Vaccine Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other global health organisations, patient groups and pharmaceutical companies.
WHO representatives have announced that they will answer the call, putting meningitis high on the global agenda and coordinating progress in five areas. The focus would be to work on eliminating epidemic meningitis from the meningitis belt and examining the potential for a more global agenda as identified by the meeting. Specifically, it will focus on:
· Ensuring long-term protection against MenA for the entire at-risk population in the meningitis belt, building on the success of recent vaccination campaigns.
· Improving outbreak response and control of meningococcal epidemics in the meningitis belt, as well as management of patients and survivors.
· Enhancing disease surveillance in the meningitis belt.
· Promoting development and public health use of affordable vaccines that tackle different causes of meningitis in the meningitis belt.
· Calling for meningitis expertise to address globally the many different causes of meningitis around the world.
Vinny Smith, Chief Executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation said: “Meningitis travels the world and does not respect country borders. For example, the new deadly strain of MenW in the UK travelled from South America. We called for this important meeting because no matter where we live, meningitis will only be defeated with coordinated global action. We are delighted to hear WHO’s new priorities to eliminate epidemics where they have the highest burden and we look forward to working with them to discuss plans for all main types of meningitis and the rest of the world too.”
Marie-Pierre Preziosi, WHO Flagship Projects Lead, Initiative for Vaccine Research, said: “There has been major progress towards the elimination of epidemic meningitis but we need incredible perseverance to take it to a sustainable level. WHO will provide coordination and leadership to develop a multicomponent roadmap with partners that aims to sustainably eliminate epidemic meningococcal meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. It will also help reduce non epidemic disease. In addition, this meeting has helped to broaden the scope of the plan by providing a more global and comprehensive discussion.”
“We understand that putting meningitis high on the global agenda, setting a global vision and strategy, and working at the interface between many disciplines could be a very powerful incentive to reach the next level of disease control to transform our world and leave no one behind by 2030.”
Sir Brian Greenwood, one of the world’s leading experts in meningitis and malaria over the past 40 years, opened the meeting and said: “Meningitis is a multifaceted problem and a multidisciplinary approach is needed. We need a global plan for meningitis through to 2030, along the lines of the existing Malaria Technical Action Plan that was ratified by the World Health Assembly. Meningitis needs to be pushed up the agenda at every level and now is the time to do it. A global effort against meningitis and septicaemia will contribute towards delivering the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals and their inclusion of ‘affordable vaccines and medicines for all.”