"Love's labours lost": failure to implement mass vaccination against group A meningococcal meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa

Lancet. 1997 Sep 20;350(9081):880-2. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(97)03227-3.


PIP: Despite the availability of a safe, effective polysaccharide vaccine, group A meningococcal meningitis epidemics persist in sub-Saharan Africa. In October 1996, there were almost 150,000 reported cases and 15,000 deaths, the majority of which involved children. At 3 months of age, induction of protective group A meningococcal antibody levels requires 2 injections at least 1 month apart. Reinjection of 5-year-old children increases group A antibodies to long-term protective levels. During meningitis epidemics in Nigeria, Mali, and Rwanda, fatality was significantly reduced in areas where scarce vaccine was administered selectively. Although effective on an individual basis, selective vaccination is unable to control meningitis epidemics. In Chad, mass vaccination of the entire population (excluding infants under 12 months) eliminated the disease. Successful mass vaccination against group A meningococcal epidemics also has been reported in Saudi Arabia, China, and refugee camps in Africa. Although cost is cited as an obstacle to routine mass vaccination to prevent meningococcal meningitis in South Africa, prevention is the least expensive approach to disease control. It is recommended that the entire population of Africa's meningitis belt receive group A meningococcal vaccine in accordance with the recommended age schedule in a mass vaccination program.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Bacterial Vaccines* / administration & dosage
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Immunization Programs*
  • Infant
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / epidemiology
  • Meningitis, Meningococcal / prevention & control*
  • Meningococcal Vaccines
  • Vaccination*


  • Bacterial Vaccines
  • Meningococcal Vaccines