- 5 million cases and 290,000 deaths from meningitis in 2017
- Governments back WHO plan to end meningitis in 10 years
- Ambitious roadmap aims to tackle causes of bacterial meningitis
- Vaccination will play a key role, along with epidemic control, surveillance, diagnosis and treatment
- Advocates stress the need for continued support for meningitis survivors
The World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the WHO, has endorsed the Global Roadmap for Defeating Meningitis by 2030. The annual meeting in Geneva is attended by WHO member countries and sets the Organisation’s policies. This year, most participants joined virtually.
The news was welcomed by meningitis advocates who had campaigned for several years for a comprehensive plan to tackle the disease.
‘This marks a momentous occasion for people affected by or at risk of meningitis – the first time the World Health Assembly has agreed on global goals to defeat the disease,’ said Vinny Smith, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation. ‘This game-changing moment will help to save lives and ensure survivors of the diseases get the support they need to maximise their quality of life.’
Reducing deaths and disability
In 2017, there were an estimated 5 million new cases of meningitis and 290,000 deaths. Of those affected by bacterial meningitis, 1 in 10 will die and more than 1 in 5 will develop severe long-term after effects, such as deafness. Meningitis deaths have fallen by 21% globally between 1990 and 2016. However, this lags the decline in other preventable diseases, such as measles, tetanus and diarrhoea due to rotavirus which fell by 93%, 90.7% and 59.7% respectively over the same period.
The roadmap sets out a concrete plan to tackle the main causes of acute bacterial meningitis with the goal of eliminating epidemics, reducing cases of vaccine-preventable meningitis, and reducing disability associated with any form of the disease.
It sets out five areas for action: prevention and epidemic control; diagnosis and treatment; disease surveillance; support and care for people affected by meningitis, and advocacy and engagement.
‘This is a major landmark moment for meningitis,’ said Professor Sir Brian Greenwood, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. ‘The international community now needs to come together to meet the ambitious targets set out in the roadmap.’
Patient voices will be heard
Patient advocates welcomed the momentum the Roadmap now gives to their work and celebrated the inclusion of patients and survivors in delivering by 2030. ‘It has been wonderful to contribute to such a vital process alongside our members,’ said Sam Nye, Executive Director of the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO). ‘We are eagerly anticipating the opportunities for increased action on meningitis that will come from it.
CoMO said the Roadmap’s vision incorporates key data on the disease but also represents those who have been personally affected by the disease. Patsy Schanbaum, whose daughter Jamie is a meningitis survivor, said it was an opportunity to enhance access to vaccination. ‘We’re delighted that more will now be done to address gaps in vaccination in our region and around the world.’