The World Health Organization (WHO) has opened the door to routine immunization of infants in sub-Saharan Africa by approving a vaccine manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India Ltd (SIIL) that has all but got rid of the deadly meningitis epidemics.
In the four years since its introduction in Africa, MenAfriVac vaccine, which is both innovative and affordable, has had an immediate and dramatic impact in breaking the cycle of meningitis A epidemics.
‘Developing the MenAfriVac vaccine fit exactly Serum’s ingrained philosophy of bringing down prices of vaccines so that underprivileged children of the world are protected,’ said Cyrus Poonawalla, CEO of SIIL, in a statement. ‘We at Serum Institute are extremely proud of being part of an international partnership that brought an end to a public health issue that has been plaguing sub-Saharan Africa for more than a century,’ he added.
The announcement about the WHO approval came from the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) – a partnership between the global health non-profit organisation PATH, WHO and Serum Institute of India Ltd (SIIL), which manufactures the MenAfriVac vaccine. In 2004, MVP partnered with SIIL to develop an affordable, tailor-made vaccine for use against meningitis A in sub-Saharan Africa. MenAfriVac was developed in record time at less than one tenth the cost of a typical new vaccine. Since campaigns started in 2010, MenAfriVac has been administered to over 215 million people in 15 countries of the African meningitis belt: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d;Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Togo and The Gambia. (Read: New vaccines significantly cut meningitis transmission)
‘Initial mass vaccination campaigns with MenAfriVac have been highly effective in reducing the number of meningitis A cases,’ said Marie-Pierre Preziosi, director of the MVP. The WHO decision means that the new, five microgram dose of the meningitis A vaccine meets international standards of quality, safety, and efficacy and can, therefore, be administered to children younger than one year of age in Africa. (Read: Smoking during pregnancy can give your baby meningitis)
MenAfriVac had previously been authorised for use in children and young adults, aged 1-29 years. ‘We are more than halfway through with introducing the vaccine in meningitis-belt countries and the first introductions have been a stunning success,’ said Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, director of the WHO department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals. ‘Elimination of meningitis epidemics will require meningitis belt countries’ political commitment to complete the mass campaigns and introduce the vaccine in the ‘Expanded Programme on Immunization’. Then and only then will we win the battle against meningitis,’ he added.