On Monday morning, I’ll wake up in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and join the crowds of people moving toward the Place de la Nation in the center of town. As the sun rises high and hot in the West African sky, we’ll stand together in the rose-colored dust of the plaza and watch musicians and dancers perform. A few dignitaries, including the nation’s president and the head of the World Health Organization, will speak. Then, the children and young adults of Ouagadougou will form a line, bare their shoulders and receive a dose of a vaccine with the potential to end epidemic meningitis in Africa.
The first mass vaccination campaigns with MenAfriVac™ will have begun. By early next year, some 20 million people throughout Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will have received the vaccine, and will be protected from a disease that has killed or disabled hundreds of thousands in their homelands.
For decades, it seemed we’d never wake up to this day. The challenge, after all, was daunting: develop a vaccine specifically for the African “meningitis belt” — 25 countries regularly ravaged by a disease that kills one in 10 who contract it and leaves as many as a quarter of survivors with severe disabilities. Make it long-lasting and safe and effective for young children as well as adults. And do it all for less than 50 cents a dose.
As Dr. Marc LaForce, director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, describes in this video, going from zero to vaccine launch in less than 10 years — and at less than one-tenth the development cost of a typical new vaccine — took the creative collaboration of partners almost fanatically dedicated to the project’s success. A partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization, the Meningitis Vaccine Project now provides a blueprint for how vaccines made specifically for poor countries might be developed in the future. I’m looking forward to telling you more of the story from Ouagadougou in the days to come.
=Kathleen Donnelly, senior publications associate, PATH