Health experts and partners from the Americas involved in meningitis prevention, control and treatment gathered at a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) conference this week to develop a roadmap to defeat meningitis in the Region by 2030.
Although bacterial meningitis is preventable with vaccination, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates meningitis caused 250,000 deaths in 2019, leaving one in five individuals with long-term conditions after an infection.
Meningitis is an infection of the membrane surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis can be treated successfully with antibiotics if it is detected early. If left untreated, however, it has a high mortality rate.
Long-term conditions that can arise from a meningitis infection include hearing loss, cognitive dysfunctions, such as memory or learning problems, loss of limbs and visual impairment. Due to the severe impact of untreated meningitis, the disease is considered among the four leading causes of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs).
“The goal of the 2030 roadmap is to reduce meningitis cases by 50% and deaths by 70%,” said Dr. Lucia de Oliveira, PAHO Regional Advisor for Immunization, “we are also working towards eliminating epidemics of bacterial meningitis in Latin America and to reduce disability and improve the quality of life after meningitis.”
To achieve these goals, Dr. de Oliveira explained, it is necessary to strengthen key health system pillars: prevention, diagnosis, epidemiological surveillance, and access to medical services and care for patients with post-meningitis conditions.
The Roadmap proposed actions along these areas, but also includes awareness raising to inform populations and decision makers about the disease, and to spread messages about symptoms and signs as well as vaccines and other methods to prevent the disease.
“Meningitis is a serious disease that affects millions worldwide and has a high lethality rate of up to 10% to 50% if accompanied by sepsis, when the body's response to an infection damages its own tissue, making it life-threatening,” said Dr. Maria Teresa Valenzuela, a PAHO International Immunization Consultant, “this is why the 2030 roadmap is important.”
The Seventy-third session of the World Health Assembly endorsed in November 2020 the Global Roadmap to defeat meningitis by 2030. This plan was officially launched by the WHO, PAHO and partners on in September 2021.
During the meeting in Lima this week, PAHO, experts and partners discussed steps to put the global plan into action in Latin America.
“The COVID-19 pandemic shifted priorities and resources, and now it’s important we get back on track to defeat meningitis and protect the population from this tremendous threat to global public health,” Dr. Valenzuela said.
The incidence of invasive meningococcal disease is highest in children under 1 year of age and remains relatively high until about age 5. Despite a declining trend in older children, it increases again in adolescents and young adults, especially when they are living together. Incidence decreases again in adults.
“The recognition of bacterial meningitis as a public health problem is low, despite its impacts on young children, and the 2030 regional roadmap is a much-needed step in the right direction towards defeating the disease in the Americas,” Dr. de Oliveira concluded.