Can we beat meningitis by 2030? How Group B Strep Support is helping to make it so
The World Health Organisation and more than 50 representatives from other health organisations, charities and academia have got together to form a taskforce with the aim of defeating meningitis by 2030. The charity Group B Strep Support is part of this taskforce as infection with Group B Strep (GBS) bacteria remains a major cause of meningitis.
The scope of the meningitis challenge
Meningitis is the name given to an infection of the membranes (meninges) that surround the brain and the spinal cord. The meninges can become infected by viruses, fungi or by bacteria including GBS. It is estimated that meningitis kills 380,000 people a year across the globe and leaves thousands more with significant disabilities.
I was astonished to discover that meningitis and neonatal sepsis together are the second largest infectious killers of children under five and responsible for more deaths than malaria, AIDS, measles and tetanus combined*. The scope of the challenge is, therefore, huge.
The focus of the mission will be threefold: prevention; diagnosis and treatment; and providing support to those affected by meningitis.
Some forms of meningitis are preventable through vaccination. Part of the fight to defeat meningitis by 2030 will involve large scale vaccination campaigns, focusing in particular on areas such as sub-Saharan Africa where the rate of incidence of meningitis is very high. The task will involve continued research into the causes of meningitis and improving current vaccines to make them more effective and more accessible.
Diagnosis and treatment
In order to improve outcomes following meningitis, healthcare teams need to be able to act quickly. The taskforce has already identified that a rapid test to diagnose meningitis is crucial to the campaign, together with the provision of training and ensuring the availability of antibiotics in some of the more remote parts of the world.
The taskforce hope to be able to provide a step-change in support available to those affected by meningitis. They hope to develop a rapid response strategy that can kick in automatically during outbreaks of meningitis and to share the stories of those who have survived meningitis.
The future for meningitis control
It is hoped that by the end of 2020, a collaborative and global strategy will have been finalised. This strategy will then be implemented over the following decade to defeat meningitis by 2030.
Having worked with families affected by meningitis, and having witnessed the devastating consequences of this infection, I look forward to celebrating the improvements in outcomes and care in the years to come.
*Liu et al. (2016) Global, regional, and national causes of under-5 mortality in 2000–15: an updated systematic analysis with implications for the Sustainable Development Goals