Meningococcal disease in Africa

Over the past 100 years, major epidemics of meningococcal meningitis have occurred every few years within the African meningitis belt.

Meningococcal disease occurs throughout the world, but attack rates in the African meningitis belt are many times higher than those seen in any other part of the world. During epidemics, the majority of cases are seen in older children and young adults, although infants are also affected. The mortality during epidemics is usually around 5 to 10%.

The reason for the susceptibility of the African meningitis belt to frequent, major epidemics of meningococcal disease is not fully understood. However, it appears to be due – at least in part – to the unique climatic features of this region as epidemics are largely restricted to the hot, dry, dusty season (December to June).

The last major epidemic that spread across the meningitis belt in 1996 caused at least 200,000 cases and many thousands of deaths. These epidemics require the establishment of emergency treatment centres and cause severe disruption to routine health services.

Find out more about MenAfriCar’s partner countries and research activities. For the latest up-to-date information on the current situation in each of the participating countries see the WHO’s weekly meningitis reports.

 

Field station, Chad. © CSSI