Niger meningitis death toll rises to 129: minister
The death toll in a meningitis epidemic that broke out in January in Niger has reached 129, the health minister of the largely arid west African nation said Friday.
"There are a total of 1,150 cases and unfortunately 129 deaths" by April 22, Health Minister Mano Aghali said in a statement broadcast on public radio.
The government's previous toll, on April 19, was 85 deaths and 908 cases, but the health ministry said cases were multiplying fast and a UN official spoke of "a manifest acceleration of the disease".
The southern capital, Niamey, was the hardest hit, accounting for 74 deaths out of 608 registered cases, a health ministry official said.
"Three of the five districts" in the city are in "an epidemic state", Aghali said. "It is to be feared that the two others will also be the same."
Meningitis is an inflammation of membranes protecting the spinal cord and the brain, and the first symptoms include stiffness and severe headaches.
The rapid spread of the disease is due to the fact that "several strains of meningitis are active and they take over from each other", a health worker said. Some strains can be highly contagious.
Several relief workers said that there was a global shortage of vaccines against the disease, which can also be tackled with antibiotics if administered swiftly.
Aghali said that more than 600,000 doses of vaccine had arrived in Niger on Thursday and announced that a vaccination campaign would begin in the capital on Friday.
Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, is prone to such epidemics because of its position in the "meningitis belt" that stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
© 2015 AFP