WHO looks to raise support for solving Africa's meningitis problem

GENEVA: The World Health Organization is spearheading a PR push by NGOs to raise cash to fight a deadly strain of meningitis in Africa.

GENEVA: The World Health Organization is spearheading a PR push by NGOs to raise cash to fight a deadly strain of meningitis in Africa.

WHO and three other organizations - the International Federation of the Red Cross, Medicins Sans Frontieres, and UNICEF - are seeking to raise $11 million to create a stockpile of vaccines and drugs.

The Geneva-based WHO's in-house communications team is stepping up its PR work surrounding the appeal, which kicked off with events to raise awareness of the new strain, W135, in Burkina Faso. There was an outbreak of W135 in Burkina Faso in late September.

WHO says that should the necessary drugs not be obtained, it is possible that thousands of people will die.

Earlier this year, the strain claimed about 1,500 lives in Burkina Faso.

Meningitis outbreaks occur almost every year in this region of Africa, dubbed the "meningitis belt," which stretches from Ethiopia in the East to Senegal in the West. In 2002, there have been about 33,000 cases and 2,500 deaths.

The main message WHO is pushing is that the disease particularly affects young children.

WHO is seeking to raise awareness of the fact that available vaccines are "highly effective," and are easy to administer.

WHO communications officer Iain Simpson said potential donors such as governments and foundations would be targeted by a cross-NGO lobbying campaign should the current PR bid fail to raise the necessary funds.

Early symptoms of meningitis are fever, nausea, and headache, which rapidly progress to cause serious neurological damage, coma, and death.

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