A meningitis mass vaccination campaign launched by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Niger, in co-operation with the local Ministry of Health, has just been brought to an end. The aim was to prevent a large scale epidemic after a number of cases had been reported in late March.
"We arrived just in time. The campaign started at the right time to stem the epidemic. Within five days of vaccination, the number of cases started to decrease," said Marta Iscla, MSF Emergency Intervention Coordinator.
Over 300,000 people were vaccinated in 20 days with very positive results as the epidemic soon started to dwindle. In addition to vaccination, the team also treated patients and trained local staff.
Niger is located in the meningitis belt, a broad area of Africa stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia that is recurrently affected by the disease. This year, after the first cases were reported by late March, the number of affected people rapidly increased, surpassing the epidemic threshold within weeks. Only in Madaoua district, where MSF focused most of its intervention, 275 cases including 18 deaths were recorded. Thanks to the presence of an MSF team in the area - where the organisation has been working in a nutrition project for years - response was swift. As the alert was sounded, the decision to launch a mass vaccination to prevent the disease from spreading was made.
In the first phase of the intervention, the MSF teams provided support to the Ministry of Health that had started a vaccination campaign in the Birnin Koni district, the most affected area when the epidemic broke out on the border with Nigeria. Then, when support teams joined in, another campaign was launched in the Madaoua district and finally in the area of Bouza. As many as 13 teams of vaccinators were needed. Everybody between two and 30 years of age was vaccinated, sometimes in rural areas where access was difficult. In the end, 93% out of the total population at risk were immunised.
In addition to prevention activities, MSF was also involved in case management distributing medicines and training local medical staff to identify and treat meningitis. The team took part as well in epidemiological surveillance.