The health services of the city of Ouahigouya, the administrative centre of the Northern Region of Burkina Faso, some 180 kilometres north of the capital Ouagadougou, are very busy. The meningitis epidemic affecting the country has broken out in two new districts in the region: Ouhahigouya and Séguénéga. From March 2006, 4,520 cases of meningitis were reported nationwide of which 485 were fatal. In order to contain the spreading epidemic, rapid action is needed. Therefore an extensive national vaccination campaign was organised.
The different centres for health and social promotion (CSPS) in the country were always full. All modern and traditional methods of communication were taken advantage of to encourage the population to come and be vaccinated. In Ouahigiouya, the city's only private radio station was mobilised. At regular intervals, messages in French and in the local language Moré emphasised the importance of vaccination and informed people of the locations and dates of upcoming vaccination sessions. Community leaders, whether traditional or religious, united in their efforts to make people aware of the dramatic way meningitis develops if left untreated. The message was well received. Long queues formed behind the health centres and the vaccination stands improvised by the health authorities and the World Health Organisation.
Some 20 kilometers away, the village of Ramessi is experiencing the same rush of activity. After a long journey by motorbike on winding roads, a health team from the Ministry of Health (three officials supervised by nurse Major Guiro), arrive at the scene at 7.00 in the morning carrying the vaccination material. In three hours, the entire local population aged between 2 and 30 years old will be vaccinated. The second stop for the team is Mopelguin, some kilometres from here.
Aminata Ouedraogo, a 34 year old mother of three explained 'I've been here since 6 o'clock this morning to get my children vaccinated. Here, meningitis kills and I want to protect my family. Our community leaders met us and advised us to come here. The women discussed it among themselves, it was talked about in places of worship and elsewhere to make sure that everyone could come to see the health workers.' There are others like her in Mopelguin, where there are more than 600 women and children that have been patiently waiting their turn since the early hours of the morning. In total, five days are necessary to immunise the population of the two affected districts.
Burkina Faso is regularly affected by different epidemics like most of the other countries in West Africa. This region is particularly prone to epidemics such as meningitis, hepatisis, yellow fever or cholera. 20% of all global epidemic alerts originate in this region. To respond to these recurrent outbreaks, the European Commission's Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) has adopted several financing decisions since 2004 for a total of €3.75 million. This funding allows not only a rapid assessment of the situation, but also the implementation of interventions to prevent localised epidemics from becoming widespread. Indeed, in 2005, rapid operations to epidemics of cholera in Monrovia (Liberia), in Conarky (Guinea), in Bissau (Guinea Bissau) and San Tomé implemented by ECHO's partners such as the World Health Organisation, Médicins Sans Frontiéres were financed through the budget dedicated to epidemics.
In Burkina Faso, in 2006, the European Commission rapidly released an amount of €241,000 to the World Health Organisation. This amount allowed the purchase of about 1,400,000 doses of vaccine for vulnerable populations in 13 affected districts. This reactivity is essential as mass vaccination can reduce the mortality rate of meningitis by 70%.
Information Officer – with kind collaboration of Burkina Faso's WHO