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Meningitis vaccine clears initial hurdle
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — An inexpensive vaccine that could dramatically reduce meningitis deaths in Africa has passed its first clinical trials and will be tested in Mali and Gambia later this year, scientists said Tuesday.
The vaccine, developed in India with funding from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and the World Health Organization, is aimed at ending meningitis epidemics that about once a decade sweep a belt of African countries from Senegal to Ethiopia, killing tens of thousands of children and young adults and disabling many more.
"If our supposition holds, this would result in the elimination of these major epidemics that have plagued Africa for more than 100 years," said Dr. F. Marc LaForce, director of the Seattle-based Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP).
Meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, kills about 10 percent of those who contract it and leaves another 10 to 20 percent afflicted with serious neurological problems such as deafness, retardation and epilepsy.
The disease is a serious problem in Africa, not least because it can kill within two days — a major problem in a region where many people live great distances from a doctor — and because it most often kills people under 30, an age group that represents the majority of the population in most African countries.
The new vaccine, unlike a vaccine in use, is expected to be safe for children as young as 6 to 8 weeks old, to provide immunity lasting at least 10 years and to cost just 40 cents a dose, compared to about $80 to $90 per dose for a four-strain vaccine commonly used in the United States.
The new vaccine is expected to go on the market in 2009 if clinical trials go well, LaForce said.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company