Meningitis death toll rises

The death toll from a meningitis epidemic in Burkina Faso rose to 324 on Friday and the United Nations says outbreaks and deaths have also been recorded in seven other West African countries this year.

Burkina Faso is by far the hardest hit country in the region, with almost 1,000 additional people infected in the last week bringing the total number of recorded cases to 3,625, according the government health authorities.

Outbreaks have been recorded in 5 out of 53 health districts, with 14 other districts on alert.

Elsewhere in the region the worst hit country is Cote d’Ivoire with 100 cases and 28 deaths followed by, 84 cases and 14 deaths in Niger, 73 cases and six deaths in Mali and 68 cases and 16 deaths in Benin, according to figures provided by the UN humanitarian coordination agency (OCHA).

Other cases have been reported in Ghana, Togo and Guinea.

According to OCHA and the Burkina Faso government, the number of vaccines in the region is insufficient to stop the epidemic from spreading. Last week the Canadian embassy in Ouagadougou announced it would provide Burkina Faso with US$188,000 vaccines but the country’s health minister Alain Yoda said that a comprehensive preventive vaccination campaign would require $1.6 million.

West Africa’s semi-arid Sahelian countries, sometimes referred to as the “meningitis belt” are hit each year by outbreaks of bacterial meningitis during the dry seasons between December and June. Dust-laden winds along with cold nights combine to lower people’s immunity to respiratory tract infections.

The countries in the region are among the poorest in the world and vaccinations are usually administered only after an outbreak has occurred.

Typically, five to 10 percent of patients die within 24 to 48 hours of the first symptoms, while 10 to 20 percent of survivors suffer brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities.

bo/nr/dh