In November, Senegal became the ninth country in the “meningitis belt” (a band of 26 countries stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia) to introduce the effective, low-cost MenAfriVac™ vaccine through the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and PATH. In countries where the vaccine has been introduced, a profound impact has been seen on reported meningitis cases, with no cases reported among those who were vaccinated and with dramatically reduced bacterial carriage – even among those too old to have been vaccinated.
As highlighted in a previous MCHIP post, the Senegalese Ministry of Health launched a successful 2-week MenAfriVac™ campaign on November 12, 2012 in one of the area’s most severely affected by meningitis outbreaks, targeting a cohort of 3.9 million people between the ages of 1 to 29 year olds. The launch and distribution of the vaccine was a success by many standards due to its organization and management. All districts received the required supplies in a timely manner with special attention given to resource mobilization for 8 of the 14 regions that were targeted as having the greatest need. Senegal came up with resourceful vaccine mobilization solutions by using transport means such as automobiles, bikes, motorcycles, and even carts pulled by donkeys and horses.
With vaccination campaigns typically targeting infants under the age of one, reaching 15 to 29 year-olds is a difficult feat as this is one of the only available vaccines targeting this age group, requiring a well thought out and creative strategy. To understand the complexity of vaccinating this group, imagine a taxi stand with hundreds of commuters trying to find the correct vehicle or motor bike and then bargaining for the right price, combined with drivers yelling for passengers, while trying to drop them at their destination, and squeezing their vehicles in and out of a jam packed area. This is a small example of environments where campaign volunteers ventured to vaccinate the 15 to 29 year old age group as they are more likely to be at their workplaces than in their homes. Campaign volunteers also visited gathering places such as markets, colleges and universities, and military camps. District teams went to prisons, taxi stands, labor workshops, and out to the fields where people were farming their crop to uncover these hard-to-reach individuals, going the extra mile to reach the targeted 3.9 million people.
MCHIP was a key technical partner in supporting this campaign during the preparatory and implementation activities and will continue to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and partners on monitoring and evaluating post-introduction activities to assess the coverage, quality, and impact of the campaign.
This campaign, and the process leading up to it, required careful preparations, public information, meticulous organization, staff training, logistics, community partnerships, crowd control, surveillance, and active monitoring. And yet, after only 10 days, it is complete. MCHIP and partners can breathe a sigh of relief, but not for long. Senegal now has a lot of work ahead as they prepare to introduce a new pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) in the coming months to protect against varieties of pneumonia due to Streptococcus pneumoniae. Once new vaccines are introduced, they quickly become old vaccines, dependent on the same vaccination system. As people working in the world of immunization know, the work to achieve and sustain improvements in routine immunization systems and raise coverage rates is a marathon requiring steady effort, and not a sprint to some imaginary finish line.
Learn more about the Meningitis Vaccine Project.
 Coverage will be calculated after all data has been reported from the 35 districts where the campaign was rolled out.