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WHO and France host high-level meeting to tackle meningitis

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Global leaders highlight the need to defeat meningitis – a leading cause of disability – at a high-level meeting co-hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Government of France, under the High Patronage of Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic. The event is taking place on 26-27 April 2024 at the Institut Pasteur and is supported by prominent athletes advocating on the cause ahead of the Paris Paralympics.

Building on news of Nigeria successfully rolling out a new, safe and highly effective vaccine, which targets five major strains of bacterial meningitis in Africa, leaders committed to implement the global roadmap for “Defeating Meningitis by 2030”, which needs a catalytic investment to action. This groundbreaking plan looks holistically at how to detect, control and beat meningitis in every region of the world, and how to provide rehabilitation to those who have suffered from the deadly disease.

“Bacterial meningitis kills one in six of the people it strikes and leaves one in five with long-lasting disabilities. Yet many of these deaths and disabilities are preventable with vaccines,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Committing to defeat meningitis by 2030 will not only save lives, but will also save billions of dollars in health costs and lost productivity.”

Meningitis is a deadly and debilitating disease; it strikes quickly, causes serious health, economic and social consequences, and affects people of all ages in every part of the world. Meningitis epidemics disproportionately impact people living in an area known as the “meningitis belt”, made up of 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Meningitis is fatal in half of untreated cases, but vaccines have dramatically reduced outbreaks like meningitis A in Africa,” said Dr Sania Nishtar, CEO of Gavi. “New, effective vaccines targeting five leading strains, like Men5CV recently rolled out in Nigeria, are reaching high-risk countries. Gavi’s ongoing support for the multivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine programme, with the required donor funding for our next five years of work, is crucial to continuing to roll out the vaccine in high-risk countries.”

The “Defeating Meningitis by 2030″ roadmap is an innovative approach that enables all stakeholders to work together to address all facets of the disease. If fully funded and implemented, the roadmap could prevent nearly 3 million cases of meningitis and at least 900 000 deaths by 2030, saving US$ 4-10 billion in medical costs and billions more in indirect costs over the decade.

The road map, approved by the World Health Assembly in the first ever resolution on meningitis in 2020, details step-by-step how to strengthen the prevention, diagnosis treatment and care of meningitis. The goals will be achieved through five pillars: prevention and epidemic control, diagnosis and treatment, disease surveillance, care and support, and advocacy and engagement. This approach not only addresses the prevention and treatment of meningitis, but also highlights the needed support and care for people living with disabling conditions resulting from the infectious disease.

With the Paralympics taking place later this year, France has taken the opportunity to powerfully articulate the impact of meningitis on those living with long-lasting disabilities – on their health and well-being, education, access to employment, and income – while also showing a pathway by which they can enjoy a full and better quality of life.

“France is honoured to host the first high-level conference on the roadmap “Defeating meningitis by 2030”. The objectives set by the roadmap are ambitious and innovative, and I am convinced that the commitments made by all of the stakeholders here today will help to achieve them,” stated Frédéric Valletoux, Minister delegate in charge of Health and Prevention. “It is thanks to the cooperation between Member States, technical experts and leaders from civil society, academia and the private sector that we will be able to collectively meet this challenge. Our goal is clear: to fight effectively against this deadly disease and build a fairer, more resilient world.”

This meeting is the first of its kind on meningitis and is co-sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Institut Pasteur and UNICEF. The roadmap is not only about investments for meningitis; it can also have far-reaching implications for primary health care. Its success can accelerate progress in reducing conditions such as sepsis and pneumonia, which are caused by the same bacteria causing meningitis, and can contribute to containing antimicrobial resistance.

There has been significant progress since all Member States approved the roadmap. WHO now aims to fast-track priority research activities, continue updating and developing key strategies and policies, and further support countries in all six WHO regions to develop their national meningitis plans. Further commitments over the coming months will allow for the full implementation of the roadmap initiatives.

“A third of the road map milestones relate to research which is key to continually improving vaccines, diagnostics and treatments and their subsequent impact,” said Professor Yasmine Belkaid, President, the Institut Pasteur. “The Institut Pasteur is proud to have been a co-sponsor of this meeting today and looks forward to working closely with partners to make the benefits of that research accessible where the needs are the greatest.”

“For me, the most extraordinary thing about the road map is how it puts a strong focus on support and care for people living with sequelae and disabilities,” said Davide Morana, a Paralympian athlete and member of the road map Strategy Support Group, who contracted meningitis at age 24. “As someone living with a severe disability, it’s hugely encouraging to see innovative work being done not just to prevent meningitis but also to help those who continue to live with the effects of the disease.”

“Children and adolescents are the most at risk from meningitis across the world. It can strike quickly, and lead to neurological damage, hearing loss, developmental delays, and even death,” said Ephrem Lemango, UNICEF Associate Director for Health, Global Chief of Immunization. “Together with partners, we are committed to strengthening routine immunization for children and securing sufficient supply to meet the demand for both outbreaks and prevention, so that no child has to suffer from this disease again.”

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a longtime supporter of developing affordable immunizations for meningitis and ensuring children across the world can access them,” said Keith Klugman, Director of Pneumonia and Pandemic Preparedness at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Guided by WHO’s road map and bolstered by Gavi and UNICEF’s support for vaccine delivery, this united, multi-stakeholder effort puts partners on a clear path to eliminating meningitis, and we’re proud to have been part of today’s event.”

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