Eleven people have died from meningitis out of 40 reported cases in four departments across Côte d’Ivoire as of 31 January, leaving people scrambling to access the vaccine for their families.
The Ministry of Health has declared the outbreaks in the departments of Kouto and Tengrela in the north as epidemics, and is providing free vaccinations in both locations through mobile health teams, with the help of the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
Bacterial and viral meningitis are diseases which cause inflammation in layers of the brain and spinal cord, and the former has a high fatality rate.
Residents of also-affected Saminkro in the centre of the country and Kani in the centre-west must pay US$5 each for a vaccination, or $3 if they come forward as a group. Ivoirians in these departments - and in surrounding areas - are lobbying the Health Ministry to bring down prices as many cannot afford to raise enough money to vaccinate their families.
“It’s a question of economics,” Jeremie Ipo, director of the district health centre in the village of Poungbè in Korhogo region, told IRIN. “We can only reduce the price of the vaccine as soon as there are enough people demanding it.”
The government recently abandoned the provision of free health care for all because of skyrocketing costs. While birth deliveries and some immunizations for children under age six are still covered, meningitis is not included.
Côte d’Ivoire is part of the meningitis belt of sub-Saharan Africa, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. A 2009-2010 meningitis outbreak killed over 900 people and infected over 13,000 in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.