Nigeria will struggle to contain future epidemics due to a shortage of vaccines, health experts said. Africa’s most populous country has recorded about 14,500 suspected cases and at least 1,150 deaths so far this year – up from 33 in 2016 – in two thirds of its 36 states, said the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Nigeria in April launched a mass vaccination campaign in its northwestern states, yet there is a limited global supply of affordable and long-lasting vaccines for the C strain of meningitis, said medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). At least 1.3 million meningitis C vaccines have been acquired to date, according to the government, yet aid agencies say several more million are needed to contain the outbreak. Previous vaccination campaigns to protect against frequent meningitis A outbreaks – more than 2,000 people died in 2009 – have allowed the C strain to become dominant and spread widely among the unprotected population, said several health experts.“This outbreak is not just one of the worst in number of cases and deaths, but in terms of how far it has spread across Nigeria,” Miriam Alia, a vaccination and outbreak response adviser at MSF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. The shortage of vaccines for meningitis C means they can only be used to respond reactively to such outbreaks, rather than to prevent future epidemics in high risk areas, she added. Meningitis is the inflammation of tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord, which can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. It spreads mainly through kisses, sneezes and coughs, and symptoms include fever, headaches and vomiting.

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