WHO Launches First Global Strategy to Eliminate Bacterial Meningitis by 2030
Mothers take their babies to receive vaccinations at a mobile unit in Molumbo district, Mozambique.

The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to eliminate bacterial meningitis by 2030, primarily by increasing access to vaccinations and treatment.

This emerged at Tuesday’s launch of the first-ever global ‘roadmap’ to tackle the disease, which causes inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, mainly as a result of infection from bacteria and viruses.

Around a quarter of a million people – mostly children – die from meningitis every year, while one in five of those infected suffers from long-lasting disabilities including seizures, loss of hearing and vision, and cognitive impairment.

“Wherever it occurs, meningitis can be deadly and debilitating; it strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences, and causes devastating outbreaks,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. 

“It is time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all –by urgently expanding access to existing tools like vaccines, spearheading new research and innovation to prevent, detecting and treating the various causes of the disease, and improving rehabilitation for those affected.”


Twenty-six countries in sub-Saharan Africa are known as the ‘meningitis belt’ because of the frequency of outbreaks.

“More than half a billion Africans are at risk of seasonal meningitis outbreaks but the disease has been off the radar for too long,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. 

“This shift away from firefighting outbreaks to strategic response can’t come soon enough.” 

Four organisms are responsible for 50% of deaths – Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and group B streptococcus. 

Effective vaccines that protect against disease caused by the first three organisms are currently available and research is underway to develop vaccines group B streptococcus bacteria

But not all communities have access to these lifesaving vaccines, and many countries are yet to introduce them into their national programmes.

High immunization coverage, speedy diagnosis and optimal treatment for patients, data-driven prevention and control and better care of those affected are key pillars of the new strategy.

The roadmap follows the first resolution on meningitis passed by the World Health Assembly and endorsed unanimously by WHO member states in 2020.

“The meningitis roadmap provides a clear blueprint for defeating this devastating disease,” said Professor Robert Heyderman, head of infection research at University College London.

“Crucially it identifies the gaps in our knowledge and the tools required. To achieve the Road Map’s ambitious goals, a team approach will bring together countries, global policymakers, civil society, funders, researchers, public health specialists, healthcare workers and industry to generate and implement innovative new strategies.”


Image Credits: © UNICEF/Claudio Fauvrelle.

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