How to Prevent the Next Health Crisis

The Ebola epidemic sweeping through West Africa is causing understandable panic in local communities and international concern about the future spread of this killer virus. Yet there’s another disease which has been more deadly this year. One that nearly cost me my medical career, and which – unlike Ebola – can be easily prevented.

"This represents a completely man-made real health threat, and could end up being far more destructive than the current Ebola epidemic.

As a young medical student in Nigeria, I contracted cerebro-spinal meningitis (CSM), eventually falling into a coma for two weeks. When I regained consciousness, I had temporarily lost my hearing. This was lucky; some other patients lose their lives.

Epidemic CSM is common in Northern Nigeria which lies in a climate zone known as the meningitis belt cutting across the northern parts of West Africa. In this region CSM is spread through the air among people with close contact. I probably caught it, through either a viral or bacterial infection, on my long bus ride to medical school.

Even when the disease is diagnosed early and treated, up to 10 percent of patients die. At this moment, Nigeria, my home country, is battling the largest outbreak in recent times; this year alone there have been more than 1,000 cases and nearly 100 deaths.

In the meningitis belt there have been nearly 12,000 cases with more than 1,000 deaths—surpassing the toll of the current Ebola outbreak. Though the numbers paint a scary picture of mounting health crisis, there is a solution. Cerebro-spinal meningitis is a vaccine preventable disease (VPD).

That’s why the recent World Health Organization (WHO) report sent shivers down my spine…

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