Meningitis may not be entirely unfamiliar to most of you. Maybe you’ve heard of the disease or had experience with it. But epidemic meningitis is an entirely different scenario. In Africa, epidemic meningitis emerges during the dry season in the so-called meningitis belt, caused by a bacterium that is generally sporadic in other parts of the world. Children and young adults show fever, signs of collapse, and may even slip into a coma as the bacteria invades their blood and the space around the brain. In the Sahel, in sub-Saharan Africa, it can cause 1000 cases of meningitis in one city—stopping commerce, closing schools, and overwhelming health care resources.
Our proposed intervention to get rid of this disease in this region of the world, over a decade ago: Africa needed a modern vaccine targeted to the needs of the population, as rapidly as possible.
The challenge, of course, was tremendous. We had to figure out how to get the vaccine made at a very low price, but at a large scale sufficient to vaccinate half the population of sub-Saharan Africa.
I’m proud to say we’re well on our way.
This month, I had the honor of witnessing the awarding of the Sabin Gold Medal to leaders of this effort: Marc LaForce and the MenAfriVac™ WHO-PATH project, for the development and implementation of a meningitis vaccine to prevent epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa. The Sabin Gold Medal is the highest scientific honor given by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, and commemorates the legacy of the late Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the man who developed the first oral polio vaccine.
Thanks to the commitment from amazing individuals from PATH, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Serum Institute of India, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), SyncoBio, academia, and others, in partnership with the Gates Foundation, this idea conceived over ten years ago has become a reality.
Impatient Optimists (Bill & Melinda Gates foundation)