05/05/2015 04:59 pm ET Updated May 06, 2016

Deadly Meningitis Epidemic Growing In Niger Amid Vaccine Shortage

BOUREIMA HAMA via Getty Images

NIAMEY, May 5 (Reuters) - At least 265 people have died so far this year in a meningitis epidemic in Niger amid a shortage of vaccines needed to prevent the disease's spread, the West African nation's health minister said on Tuesday.

Some 3,856 cases of meningitis were recorded between Jan. 1 and May 4, with five of the country's eight regions, including the capital Niamey, particularly hard hit, Mano Aghali said in an address broadcast on state-owned television.

The government shut all schools in the region around Niamey and launched a campaign to vaccinate children aged 2 to 15 in April at a time when the outbreak had killed 85 people.

However, classrooms reopened a week later and the vaccination campaign has yet to reach the schools.

"Niger is facing a shortage of vaccines on the international market," Aghali said. "We only have 50 percent of what's needed to cover our vaccination targets."

In 2010-2011, the uranium and oil-producer, one of the world's poorest nations, successfully carried out a campaign to eliminate the "A" strain of meningitis.

Meningococcal meningitis infects the thin lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can cause severe brain damage, deafness, epilepsy or necrosis and if untreated is fatal in 50 percent of cases.

Authorities said the current outbreak included the W135, "C" strain and pneumococcal kinds of meningitis.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Crispian Balmer)



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