This week, a young person in northern Nigeria will become the 100 millionth African to be protected from an infection of the brain and spinal cord called meningitis A by a vaccine called MenAfriVac®.
This latest chapter in the remarkable story of MenAfriVac® began two years ago. In December 2010, almost everyone between the ages of 1 and 29 in the West African country of Burkina Faso lined up to get the new vaccine during the first widespread vaccination campaign. Their mood was excited, hopeful, even celebratory. And why shouldn’t it be? They were about to receive a shot that offered them protection from a disease that reached into nearly every family, bringing severe disability when it didn’t bring death. ]
Partners in ending epidemics
But the story of MenAfriVac® goes back even farther than those December days in Burkina Faso. Around the start of the new millennium, creative thinking brought forth a new vaccine development model. With encouragement from African ministers of health, partners from private, public, and nongovernmental independent organizations began coming together to address the epidemics of meningitis A that regularly menaced a region stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia.
In 2001, PATH and the World Health Organization became partners in the Meningitis Vaccine Project, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributed funding for a 10-year project to deliver a vaccine. Development of that vaccine eventually took the work of partners on four continents and from all business sectors. The Serum Institute of India, Ltd. committed to manufacturing the vaccine at less than the US$.50 per dose target price set by the project. In the Netherlands, Synco BioPartners helped supply raw materials. African health ministers leant crucial support to the project, and two scientists at the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the US Food and Drug Administration contributed technology that made the vaccine possible. Meanwhile, other US government agencies contributed funding and helped test MenAfriVac®.
How to solve the big problems
Funding from GAVI and its donors has helped introduce the vaccine in 10 of the 26 countries where epidemics regularly strike, and recent evidence suggests that meningitis A is being eliminated there. Now, our challenge is to continue introduction of the vaccine in the rest of the region. As I head to the GAVI Partners Forum this week, I’ve been thinking about MenAfriVac®’s success and what it means for the future of vaccine development and delivery. MenAfriVac®’s story shows the potential of innovative collaborative projects. If we are to solve the 21st century’s biggest problems—from eliminating polio to addressing girls’ education—we’ll need the kind of innovative thinking that partnerships between the nonprofit, public, and private sectors can provide. It’s unlikely that we can solve these kinds of major challenges on our own. The story of MenAfriVac® shows what we can accomplish when we work together.
Image/Multimedia/Caption: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki
Contributor’s Photo: Auston James