40 dead in meningitis epidemic in northeast Bouna region

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cote d'Ivoire said Tuesday that 40 people have died in a meningitis epidemic that has swept the rebel-held northeastern Bouna region.

Since January, officials have registered 210 cases of meningitis in the rebel-controlled area near the border with Burkina Faso, around 500 kms from the economic capital Abidjan, WHO doctor Aka Bian Tanoh told IRIN.

Tanoh said the epidemic had spread because there had been no vaccinations last year and there was a shortage of medical staff in the region.

Most health centers have closed down in northern Cote d’Ivoire, which was seized by rebels in September 2002.

"The need for a vaccination campaign to stop the transmission is urgent," Tanoh said. "We are talking with the Health Ministry this week to discuss what can be done."

Tanoh, speaking after the return of a WHO team from a two-day assessment visit to the area, said there were still "several" cases of meningitis, mainly in villages around the town of Bouna.

Earlier reports that over 100 people had died from meningitis were false, he said.

But he stressed that the epidemic was not over yet and that people could still die from the disease, which attacks the brain and the central nervous system, causing fever and severe headaches.