Nigeria, Niger hardest hit by 2009 meningitis epidemic – UN health agency

Crowded markets and living quarters in Nigeria's most populated state, Kano, increase the risk of a meningitis outbreak

27 March 2009 – A vast majority of the nearly 25,000 suspected meningitis cases and more than 15,000 deaths worldwide in the first three months of 2009 have occurred in the so-called “African meningitis belt,” hitting Nigeria and Niger the hardest, the United Nations health agency has reported.

The bulk of the cases in the meningitis belt, stretching from Senegal to Somalia, has been in northern Nigeria, reporting 17,462 suspected cases and 960 deaths, and Niger, with 4,513 suspected cases and 169 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Vaccination campaigns are underway in the two countries, with the support of WHO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the non-governmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

WHO, which is supporting the Nigerian Health Ministry’s efforts to boost disease surveillance, has had technical experts on the ground since last month.

Along with its partners, WHO has released 2.3 million doses of vaccines to Nigeria and 1.9 million to Niger. Nearly 13 million doses were stockpiled for 2009, but more are needed for this meningitis season which will run from January through June.

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