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Uganda has almost eliminated a type of meningitis among young children as a result of consistent immunisation programmes.

In a paper published in the April edition of WHO Bulletin, researchers show that use of the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine among children under five resulted in a marked decline in Hib meningitis.

Hib causes meningitis and pneumonia and kills about 400,000 children under five — mostly in the developing world — every year.

Led by Addy Kekitiinwa, a Ugandan paediatrician, the researchers from the Uganda Expanded Programme on Immunization and the WHO monitored the incidence of Hib meningitis in three hospitals across Uganda.

They found that the number of children suffering from Hib meningitis dropped by 85 per cent within four years of the vaccine's introduction in 2002 and fell to zero in monitored areas in the fifth year.

The researchers estimate that this prevents 30,000 cases of severe Hib disease — which can have long-term health consequences — and 5,000 child deaths every year.

The immunisation programme, which used a pentavalent vaccine that also immunises against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and hepatitis B, was supported by the GAVI Alliance, in partnership with the government.

"The introduction of Hib vaccine has now completely changed the epidemiology of bacterial meningitis in Uganda, with elimination of meningitis due to Hib as a public health problem," says Kekitiinwa.

Researchers in Kenya — which introduced the vaccine through a rigorous child immunisation programme one year before Uganda — have also noted that Hib-related disease prevalence among children has drastically fallen.

According to Moses Nderitu, a researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute- Welcome Trust research programme, the latest data from Kenya has shown that the disease prevalence is even lower than Uganda.

Nderitu told SciDev.Net that a survey in Kenya found prevalence has fallen a further 87 per cent in older children as their immunity continues to improve the longer they live with the vaccine. 

Link to full article in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization