SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organization (WHO) is aiming to eliminate the deadliest form of meningitis by 2030 through increased awareness and access to treatments, global plans launched by the UN-agency to combat the inflammatory disease showed.
Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. While it is typically caused by bacterial and viral infections, bacterial meningitis kills more people than any other form of the disease.
The most serious form of the disease tends to be caused by bacterial infection. It leads to around 250,000 deaths a year and can cause fast-spreading epidemics, killing one in ten of those infected who are mostly children and young people.
It also leaves one in five with long-lasting disability, such as seizures, hearing and vision loss, neurological damage, and cognitive impairment.
The “Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030” was launched by a coalition of partners at a virtual event in Geneva to focus on preventing infections and improving care and diagnosis for those who contract meningitis.
The new Roadmap’s priorities for meningitis response and prevention, include achieving high immunization coverage, the development of new affordable vaccines, and improved prevention strategies and outbreak response.
Speedy diagnosis and optimal treatment for patients is also a priority, as well as good data to guide prevention and control efforts, care and support for those affected, and advocacy and engagement, to ensure high awareness of meningitis, accountability for national plans, and affirmation of the right to prevention, care and aftercare services.
“Wherever it occurs, meningitis can be deadly and debilitating; it strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences, and causes devastating outbreaks,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The disease is most common in more than 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. If left untreated, bacterial meningitis can cause fast-spreading epidemics, killing one out of 10 infected people, while one in five people are left with chronic conditions including seizures, hearing and vision loss, and neurological damage.
Over the last ten years, meningitis epidemics have occurred in all regions of the world, though most commonly in the so-called ‘Meningitis Belt,’ which spans 26 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, the report notes.
These epidemics are unpredictable, can severely disrupt health systems, and fuel poverty – generating catastrophic costs for households and communities.
The WHO-led program also aims to reduce deaths due to bacterial meningitis by 70% and halve the number of cases overall.