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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – October 21, 2002: Meningitis in Africa - 2002-10-18

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Health experts from Africa and international aid agencies have agreed on a plan to fight a new, deadly form of meningitis in Africa. The plan was approved during a recent meeting in Ouagadougo, the capital of Burkina Faso. This West African country is the first nation in Africa to be affected by the new kind of meningitis, called W-one-hundred-thirty-five. So far, almost one-thousand-five-hundred people have died from the new form of meningitis.

The World Health Organization warns that many more could die in the coming months. The disease is most widespread in Africa from November through May.

Meningitis is caused by a bacterium. The disease affects the brain. About fifty percent of all patients die if the disease is not treated. The disease spreads through a part of Africa that extends from the West African coast to the eastern part of Somalia.

W-H-O officials say the best way to save lives is to provide everyone in an infected area with vaccine medicine to prevent the disease. However, they say they do not have enough of the current vaccine to treat meningitis W-one-hundred-thirty-five.

In addition, they say the cost of a single injection is too high -- as much as fifty dollars. Because of the cost, the W-H-O says aid agencies will not be able to carry out mass vaccination campaigns in Africa. There is already a less costly vaccine for the more common A and C forms of meningitis.

Ian Simpson is a spokesperson for the World Health Organization. He says that the experts who met in Ouagadougo agreed to a two-step plan to fight the spread of this new form of meningitis. First, they will continue working with drug manufacturers to produce a less costly vaccine. The second part of the plan is to collect enough medicine and equipment to treat people who become infected.

Mister Simpson called for a careful examination of patients at health centers and hospitals to help discover meningitis cases early. This way, people can receive treatment immediately. In addition, area laboratories that identify meningitis will serve as an early warning system.

Mister Simpson also said that more testing of new medical treatments for meningitis patients is needed. He also called for improved efforts to quickly transport medicines to areas where they are needed.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.


Adapted from a VOA report by Lisa Schlein