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Time to address mental health issues in the workplace, UN agencies urge

The UN agencies have launched two publications which aim to prevent negative work situations and cultures while also offering mental health protection and support for employees.  

Performance and productivity affected 

“It’s time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at WHO, which has issued global guidelines on the issue. 

“The well-being of the individual is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating impact on a person’s performance and productivity.” 

The WHO guidelines contain actions to tackle risks to mental health at work such as heavy workloads, negative behaviours, and other factors that can create distress. 

For the first time, the UN health agency recommends manager training, to build their capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers’ needs. 

A workplace taboo 

WHO’s World Mental Health Report, published in June, revealed that of one billion people estimated to be living with a mental disorder in 2019, 15 per cent of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder.  

The workplace amplifies wider societal issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality, the agency said.

Bullying and psychological violence, also known as “mobbing,” is a key complaint of workplace harassment that has a negative impact on mental health. However, discussing or disclosing mental health remains a taboo in work settings globally. 

The guidelines also recommend better ways to accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions and proposes interventions that support their return to work. 

Increasing opportunities 

They also outline measures to ease entry into the jobs market, for those workers with severe mental health conditions. 

Importantly, the guidelines call for interventions for the protection of health, humanitarian, and emergency workers. 

A separate policy brief with ILO explains the WHO guidelines in terms of practical strategies for governments, employers and workers, and their organizations, in both the public and private sectors.  

The objective is to support the prevention of mental health risks, protect and promote mental health at work, and support those with mental health conditions, so they can participate and thrive at work.  

“As people spend a large proportion of their lives in work – a safe and healthy working environment is critical,” said, Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General. 

“We need to invest to build a culture of prevention around mental health at work, reshape the work environment to stop stigma and social exclusion, and ensure employees with mental health conditions feel protected and supported.” 

ILO’s Convention on occupational safety and health, and a related recommendation, provide legal frameworks to safeguard workers.  

Lack of national programmes 

However, only 35 per cent of countries reported having national programmes for work-related mental health promotion and prevention. 

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25 per cent increase in general anxiety and depression worldwide, according to a WHO study published in March. 

The crisis exposed how unprepared governments were for its impact on mental health, as well as a chronic global shortage of mental health resources.  

In 2020, governments worldwide spent an average of just two per cent of health budgets on mental health, with lower-middle income countries allocating less than one per cent. 

Build momentum to ‘finish the job’ and end COVID-19 pandemic, Guterres urges

Mr. Guterres celebrated rising vaccination coverage worldwide, particularly among high-risk populations, and the fact that, on average, countries have vaccinated around three-quarters of health care workers and older people.

COVID-19 measures are increasingly integrated into routine health programmes, and new antiviral drugs are about to become available.

Gaps remain

However, gaps in coverage and protection remain, said Mr, Guterres. There is minimal vaccine booster coverage in all countries, and there are low vaccination rates in poorer countries. He also warned of a “shadow pandemic” of vaccine hesitancy, and misinformation, that needs to be tackled.

The UN chief also called for testing rates to be drastically improved, and for countries to ensure they are fully prepared for future pandemics. “Making progress towards closing these gaps is what today is all about, declared Mr. Guterres. “It’s time to build political momentum to finish the job on COVID-19”.

A health worker delivers COVID-19 vaccines, donated through the COVAX Facility, to a Health Post in Nepal

UNICEF/Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi
A health worker delivers COVID-19 vaccines, donated through the COVAX Facility, to a Health Post in Nepal

‘We have never been in a better position to end COVID-19’

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of UN health agency WHO, has had to deliver many downbeat remarks since the beginning of the pandemic but, at Friday’s event, he was able to send a remarkably positive message.

With so many people vaccinated, and reported deaths from the virus at the lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, the international community, he said, has “never been in a better position to end COVID-19 as a global health emergency”.

However, Tedros echoed the concerns raised by Mr. Guterres, and referred to a report, issued on Thursday by the WHO Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Council, which revealed that most low and middle-income countries have virtually no access to new antivirals.

Whilst the Accelerator is making progress, providing almost 1.5 billion vaccine doses, and supporting 68 new countries to reach vaccination coverage of at least 40 per cent, much more needs to be done, said Tedros: “we’re not there yet, but the end is in sight”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on children's education

© UNICEF//Chris Farber
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on children’s education

‘Step by step, we are making progress ‘

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, has played a key role in making sure vaccines are administered to those who need it, especially the most vulnerable.

In his opening remarks, Omar Abdi, the UNICEF Deputy Executive-Director, reminded those at the event of some of the achievements of her agency in tackling the health crisis.

These include the administering of more than 12.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines; financing and implementing the largest ultra-cold chain scale-up in history (UNICEF financed and delivered 800 ultra-cold chain freezers to nearly 70 countries in 2021 alone); and shipping over 1.2 billion items of personal protective equipment to protect frontline and healthcare workers and others in 142 countries.

“Step by step, we are making progress”, said Ms. Russell, “but we need to keep up the momentum to protect the world against future surges and new variants. Because as long as coverage continues to be inequitable, the pandemic will continue, and so will the serious risks it poses to children”.

The head of UNICEF drew the audience’s attention to some of the knock-on effects of the pandemic on children who, she said, figure amongst its biggest victims, having faced the devastating impacts on health, education and well-being.

Routine jabs plummet

Routine vaccinations for other diseases have been significantly disrupted; Ms. Russell pointed to data from WHO and UNICEF which show that 25 million children did not receive the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis – a marker for immunization coverage in general – in 2021.

“This is the largest, sustained drop in the rates of routine childhood vaccinations in a generation”, she warned, “potentially wiping out 30 years of progress if we don’t get back on track.”

Seven Ebola cases, one death confirmed in Uganda, WHO scales up response

So far, seven cases of the rare Sudan strain of the virus, including one death, have been confirmed in the east African country. The announcement comes two days after WHO confirmed the first new case, after six suspicious deaths were reported in Mubende district earlier this month.

Forty-three contacts have been identified, and 10 people are believed to have caught the virus, and are receiving treatment at the regional referral hospital in Mubende, making it the first time Uganda has detected the Sudan ebolavirus since 2012.

Mubende is located in the central region of Uganda, around two hours by car from the capital Kampala, along a busy road leading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

There are gold mines in the area, which attract people from different parts of Uganda, as well as other countries; WHO explained that, because of the mobile nature of the population in the region, there is an increased risk of the virus spreading further.

‘Drawing the reins’ on the outbreak

WHO’s response to the outbreak has involved delivering medical supplies, providing logistics and deploying staff to support the Ugandan authorities in halting the spread of the virus.

A technical team has been sent to Mubende district to support surveillance, infection prevention and control, and the management of cases. Surveillance is being ramped in neighbouring districts, and local staff are on the front line, to bolster the Ebola response. Five international experts are also being deployed, with more on standby if needed.

“We are acting quickly and decisively to draw the reins on this outbreak”, said Dr Abdou Salam Gueye, Regional Emergency Director with the WHO Regional Office for Africa. “Africa’s stronger homegrown emergency readiness is proving ever more crucial in tackling outbreaks such as Ebola.”

Vaccine development

Ebola can be deadly, but early identification of cases and treatment of symptoms greatly increases the chances of survival.

None of the current Ebola vaccines are effective against the Sudan strain identified in Uganda, but at least six candidate vaccines are in different stages of development.  

The WHO Research and Development Blueprint team is in contact with all developers and is leading a collaborative effort involving international experts to determine which of the vaccines may be suitable for additional evaluation during this outbreak, should more cases be confirmed. 
 

Noncommunicable diseases now ‘top killers globally’ – UN health agency report

The report and new data portal, was launched on the sidelines of the 77th session of the General Assembly, at an event co-organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) together with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Report assets

NCDs constitute one of the greatest health and development challenges of this century, according to WHO.

Chief among them are cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke; cancer; and diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – as well as mental health illnesses.

Together they account for nearly three-quarters of deaths in the world, taking 41 million lives every year. 

The report, Invisible numbers: The true extent of noncommunicable diseases and what to do about them, highlights NCDs statistics to illustrate the true scale of the threats and risk factors they pose. 

It also shows cost-effective and globally applicable interventions that can lower those numbers and save lives and money.

Country-specific portal

Sharing the latest country-specific data, risk factors and policy implementation for 194 countries, the NCD data portal brings the numbers in the report to life. 

NCD facts

  • Every two seconds, one person under the age of 70 dies of an NCD.
  • 86 per cent of those deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. 
  • This major public health shift has gone largely unnoticed over the last decades.
  • Eliminating tobacco, harmful alcohol and unhealthy diets could prevent or delay NCD-related illnesses health and premature deaths.

Moreover, it allows data exploration on cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases along with their main drivers and risk factors, which include tobacco, unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol and lack of physical activity. 

The portal spotlights patterns and trends throughout countries and allows comparison across nations and/or within geographical regions.

Important timing

To date, only a handful of countries are on track to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of reducing early deaths from NCDs by a third.  

And yet, NCDs are at the heart of sustainable development and their prevention and treatment

is a prime opportunity for investment that would have myriad impacts on economic growth, far outweighing the money spent.

“It is a misconception” that they are “diseases of high-income countries”, said Bente Mikkelsen, WHO’s Director of Noncommunicable Diseased, adding that a full 85 per cent of all premature deaths happen in low and middle-income countries.

At a critical juncture for public health, WHO said that the new information offers a chance to address the issue and recommends spending more on prevention.

Investing $18 billion a year across all low and middle-income countries could generate net economic benefits of $2.7 trillion by 2030.

Rare Ebola outbreak declared in Uganda

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that a sample taken from a 24-year-old man was identified as the relatively rare Sudan strain.

It is the first time in more than a decade that the Sudan strain has been found in Uganda, which also saw an outbreak of the Zaire strain of Ebola virus in 2019.

Suspicious deaths

The latest outbreak follows six suspicious deaths in Mubende district so far this month. There are also eight suspected cases who are receiving care in a health facility.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, said that the UN agency was working closely with Ugandan authorities to investigate the source, and support efforts to control it.

“Uganda is no stranger to effective Ebola control”, she said. “Thanks to its expertise, action has been taken to quickly to detect the virus and we can bank on this knowledge to halt the spread of infections.”

No effective vaccine

Existing vaccines against Ebola have proved effective against the Zaire strain but it is not clear if they will be as successful against the Sudan strain, WHO said in a statement.

Ebola is a severe, often fatal illness affecting humans and other primates. It has six different strains, three of which – Bundibugyo, Sudan and Zaire – have previously caused large outbreaks.

Case fatality rates of the Sudan strain have varied from 41 per cent to 100 per cent in past outbreaks. Early roll-out of supportive treatment has been shown to significantly reduce deaths from Ebola, WHO said.

Sending supplies

The agency has dispatched supplies to support the care of patients and is sending a specialized tent that will be used to isolate patients.

While ring vaccination of high-risk people with Ervebo (rVSV-ZEBOV) vaccine has been highly effective in controlling the spread of Ebola in recent outbreaks in DRC and elsewhere, said WHO, this vaccine has only been approved to protect against the Zaire strain.

Another vaccine produced by pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson may be effective but has yet to be specifically tested against the Sudan strain.

New UN guide helps support perinatal mental healthcare in 'stigma-free' environment

Life-altering moments like pregnancy, birth, and early parenthood can be stressful for women and their partners, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It can trigger a period of poor mental health or lead to a worsening of previous mental health conditions.

Moreover, among women with perinatal mental health conditions – just before and shortly after giving birth – around 20 per cent will experience suicidal thoughts or undertake acts of self-harm, said WHO.

Guiding with cultural sensitivity

Ignoring mental fitness not only risks women’s overall health and well-being, but also impacts infants’ physical and emotional development.

The UN health agency’s new guide for integration of perinatal mental health in maternal and child health services upholds that good mental health can improve health outcomes  and the quality of maternal and child health services for all women.

And it compliments other services, including screening, diagnosis and management of PMH conditions into maternal and child health (MCH) – highlighted in the Nurturing Care Framework; WHO recommendations on maternal and newborn care for a positive postnatal experience; and the WHO guideline on improving Early Childhood Development.

The guide provides the best available information aimed at supporting MCH providers in identifying symptoms of mental health problems and responding in a way that is adapted to their local and cultural context.

Planning guide

“The guide provides an evidence-informed approach for planning the integration of perinatal mental healthcare into MCH services and assessing its impact,” said the UN health agency.

WHO outlined that effective integration requires, for example, a core team responsible to oversee it, a situation analysis and needs assessment to identify a feasible package of interventions that meet women’s needs during the perinatal period, and adequate workforce training and supervision to deliver services.

“MCH services during the perinatal period represent a unique opportunity to support women in a respectful and stigma-free environment,” said the UN health agency.

This, in turn, leads to increased attendance and better engagement in care for women and their babies and greater well-being and advancement of society.

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight: WHO

“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists during his regular weekly press conference.

The UN health agency’s Director-General explained however, that the world is “not there yet”.

Finish line in sight

“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view. She runs harder, with all the energy she has left. So must we. We can see the finish line. We’re in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running”, he underscored.

He also warned that if the world does not take the opportunity now, there is still a risk of more variants, deaths, disruption, and uncertainty.

“So, let’s seize this opportunity”, he urged, announcing that WHO is releasing six short policy briefs that outline the key actions that all governments must take now to “finish the race”.

People wear protective masks in Tokyo, Japan.

© ADB/Richard Atrero de Guzman
People wear protective masks in Tokyo, Japan.

Urgent call

The policy briefs are a summary, based on the evidence and experience of the last 32 months, outlining what works best to save lives, protect health systems, and avoid social and economic disruption.

“[They] are an urgent call for governments to take a hard look at their policies and strengthen them for COVID-19 and future pathogens with pandemic potential”, Tedros explained.

The documents, which are available online, include recommendations regarding vaccination of most at-risk groups, continued testing and sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and integrating effective treatment for COVID-19 into primary healthcare systems.

They also urge authorities to have plans for future surges, including the securing of supplies, equipment, and extra health workers.

The briefs also contain communications advice, including training health workers to identify and address misinformation, as well as creating high-quality informative materials.

A laboratory scientist works on the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine.

Novavax/Patrick Seibert
A laboratory scientist works on the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine.

Committed to the future

Tedros underscored that WHO has been working since New Year’s Eve 2019 to fight against the spread of COVID and will continue to do so until the pandemic is “truly over”.

“We can end this pandemic together, but only if all countries, manufacturers, communities and individuals step up and seize this opportunity”, he said.

Possible scenarios

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, highlighted that the virus is still “ intensely circulating” around the world and that the agency believes that case numbers being reported are an underestimate.

“We expect that there are going to be future waves of infection, potentially at different time points throughout the world caused by different subvariants of Omicron or even different variants of concern”, she said, reiterating her previous warning that the more the virus circulates, the more opportunities it has to mutate.

However, she said, these future waves do not need to translate into “waves or death” because there are now effective tools such as vaccines and antivirals specifically for COVID-19.

Catastrophic hunger levels leave 500,000 children at risk of dying in Somalia

In a call for immediate funding to help vulnerable communities hit by successive droughts, high food prices and conflict, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed that the emergency shows no signs of letting up.

Without action, famine “will occur within the next few weeks”, FAO said.

The UN agency added that drought-related deaths “have been occurring” and the toll could be much higher in hard-to-reach rural areas, compared with the number recorded in camps for displaced families.

A ‘nightmare’ not seen this century

During the famine of 2011, 340,000 children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told journalists in Geneva. “Today it’s 513,000,” he added. “It’s a pending nightmare we have not seen this century.”

According to FAO, approximately 6.7 million people across Somalia will likely endure high levels of acute food insecurity between October and December this year (IPC Phase 3 or above).

This includes more than 300,000 who have been left “empty-handed” by the country’s triple emergency and who are expected to fall into famine (IPC Phase 5).

Livestock dropping dead

In pastoral communities where herders have been desperately searching for pasture, “they are now watching their livestock drop dead like flies”, said Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia.

The perilous situation of those forced from their homes by hunger in Baidoa town of Bay region in Southern Somalia, is particularly concerning, Mr. Peterschmitt added.

“The repeated warnings have been clear: act now or a famine will occur within the next few weeks,” he insisted.

“The drought situation is spreading at an alarming rate; more districts and regions are facing emergency levels of food insecurity as the cumulative effects of multiple failed rainy seasons take their toll.”

In a call for radical change to stop famine happening again, UNICEF’s Mr. Elder described the disturbing scenes already playing out in Somalia’s worst-affected region.

Somalia is facing the risk of an unprecedented famine

UN Photo / Fardosa Hussein
Somalia is facing the risk of an unprecedented famine

Everyday bugs now deadly

“Children are already dying,” he said. “Our partners report that some stabilization centres are in fact full and critically-ill children are receiving treatment on the floor.”

With greater funding, more severe and acutely malnourished children can be given lifesaving food which will make them strong enough to ward off diseases, just like healthier youngsters.

“This is not just about nutrition, severely malnourished children are in fact up to 11 times more likely to die from things like diarrhoea and measles than well-nourished boys and girls,” Mr. Elder said, adding that both diseases “are spiking” in the worst-hit areas.

The UN’s response involves reaching the most vulnerable communities to prevent mass displacement before famine has been declared, to help to promote a faster recovery.

Humanitarian assistance has been increasing and reached an average of 3.1 million people per month between April and June 2022 and 4.5 million people per month between July and September 2022, according to FAO’s Mr. Peterschmitt.

“We know that the deaths, half of the deaths of 2011, happened before the declaration of famine,” said El-Khidir Daloum, WFP Somalia Representative and Country Director.

“As we speak right now, we are heading to 15 areas classified as hard-to-reach and we are scaling up together with UNICEF, the nutrition and the priority areas.”

In June, UNICEF reported that 386,000 children aged six to 59 months needed treatment for severe acute malnutrition. “That’s increased (today) to more than half a million, to 513,000; that’s a 33 per cent increase. Said one more way, it means 127,000 more children are at risk of death,” Mr. Elder said.

Syria: Cholera outbreak is ‘serious threat’ to whole Middle East

Imran Riza, who is also Resident Coordinator, said in a statement that “swift and urgent action is needed to prevent further illness and death. UN agencies and non-governmental organizations partners are coordinating closely with health authorities to ensure a timely and effective response.”

The outbreak was declared on 10 September by the Syrian Ministry of Health, following 15 confirmed laboratory cases, including one patient death, said Mr. Riza. A total of 936 cases of severe acute watery diarrhoea were reported between 25 August and 10 September, which led to “at least eight deaths”, he reported.

Most cases were reported from Aleppo (72.2 per cent), and Deir-ez-Zor (21.5 per cent), with cases also reported in Ar-Raqqa, Al Hasakeh, Hama and Lattakia.

The number of confirmed cholera cases so far is 20 in Aleppo, four in Lattakia and two in Damascus – both of those infected in the capital had travelled from Aleppo.

Euphrates link

“Based on a rapid assessment conducted by health authorities and partners, the source of infection is believed to be linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops, resulting in food contamination”, said the UN Humanitarian Coordinator. “Cholera remains a global threat to public health and an indicator of inequity.”

He said the outbreak was an indicator of severe shortages of water throughout Syria, an issue the UN has “been sounding alarm bells on”, for some time.

Mr. Riza said that while the Euphrates levels were dropping with drought-like conditions and a national water infrastructure damaged by 11 years of war, “much of the already vulnerable population of Syria is reliant on unsafe water sources, which may lead to the spread of dangerous water-borne diseases, particularly among children.”

“Water shortages are forcing households to resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as changing hygiene practices or increasing household debt to afford water costs.”

Coordinated response underway

A closely coordinated water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and health response is underway, the senior humanitarian official said, led by the Syrian health ministry with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, working with a wide network of partners on the ground to respond.

Since late August, health partners have been actively working to strengthen preparedness and response capacity for potential outbreaks in all affected governorates. Early warning surveillance has been intensified in areas where the outbreak has been reported and other high-risk areas, including in camps hosting internally displaced persons.”

Tests and treatment

Some 4,000 rapid diagnostic tests have been delivered to support the work of rapid response teams deployed to investigate suspected cases. Intravenous fluids and oral rehydration salts have been also delivered to health facilities where confirmed patients are admitted, said Mr. Riza.

Partners have mobilized health and WASH supplies in the affected governorates. Chlorination activities to disinfect water are being scaled up and dosing rates are being increased in fragile and highly vulnerable communities to curb the spread of the disease.

Clean water is also being trucked to those areas impacted. Partners are similarly engaging with local authorities to begin periodic, focused water testing procedures and support the collection of water samples.

“The UN in Syria calls on donor countries for urgent additional funding to contain the outbreak and prevent it from spreading”, said Mr. Riza. “We urge all concerned parties to ensure unimpeded and sustained access to affected communities, as well as the support of neighbouring countries to expedite the necessary approvals to ensure the timely delivery of life-saving medicines and medical supplies.”

UN health agency kicks off meningitis vaccination campaigns in Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) and partners have launched a roadmap to stop by 2030, bacterial meningitis outbreaks on the continent.

In a race against time, African countries are being urged to rapidly implement the plan before the start of the meningitis season in January, which runs until June.

“More than 400 million Africans are still at risk of seasonal meningitis outbreaks, but the disease has remained off the radar for too long,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa

Meningitis is caused by inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Acute bacterial meningitis can cause death within 24 hours and leaves one in five survivors with lifelong disability. 

African success story

Historically, type A was the highest meningitis outbreak in Africa.

However, in 2010 the effective MenAfriVac vaccine was developed and deployed throughout the continent.

With WHO and partners’ support, more than 350 million people in 24 high-risk African countries have to date, received the MenAfriVac vaccine. 

While meningitis type A accounted for 90 per cent of cases and deaths before 2010, no new cases have been reported since 2017.

Controlling that lethal form of meningitis has led to fewer meningitis type A deaths and while half of meningitis-affected people died in 2004, in 2021, 95 per cent of cases survived. 

“The defeat of meningitis type A is of one of Africa’s biggest success stories in health, but the fallout from COVID-19 hampers our drive to eliminate this bacterial infection as a public health threat once and for all, and could lead to catastrophic resurgences,” said Dr. Moeti.

Trending backwards

The pandemic severely disrupted meningitis prevention and control services, with disease surveillance, laboratory confirmation of cases and outbreak investigations all steeply declining.

Based on country reports, WHO found that meningitis control activities were reduced by 50 per cent in 2020 compared with 2019, with a slight improvement in last year.

While no meningitis type A case has been reported in Africa over the past five years, outbreaks still occur and are caused by other types of meningococcal bacteria.

In 2019, 140,552 Africans died from all types of meningitis, with major outbreaks of meningitis type C recorded in seven so-called “meningitis belt countries” since 2013.

And last year, a four-month outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo claimed 205 lives.

Moreover, Africa is the only region to still experience outbreaks and accounts for the highest number of new meningitis cases globally – reporting 100 cases per 100,000 people.

“Aside from the toll on human life, outbreaks negatively impact health systems, our fragile economies, and impoverish entire populations forced to contend with multiple health and socio-economic challenges,” lamented Dr Moeti.

Fighting back

In an ambitious bid to defeat bacterial meningitis in Africa by 2030, the new regional strategy sets out a roadmap for countries to shore up diagnosis, surveillance, care, advocacy and vaccination to eliminate outbreaks, curb deaths by 70 per cent and halve infections.

WHO estimates that $1.5 billion will be required between now and 2030 to implement the plan, which if fully adopted will save more than 140,000 lives every year in the region and significantly reduce disability.

“In prioritizing the response to COVID-19, we must not lose our focus on other health problems,” underscored the senior WHO official, urging countries to “ramp up implementation of the new WHO regional roadmap now”.

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