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The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week issued an urgent plea to drugmakers to make an effective vaccine available at reduced cost to avoid the resurgence of a rare strain of bacterial meningitis that killed 1,500 people last year in Africa.

The most common forms of meningitis can be prevented with inexpensive, readily available vaccines, but the only vaccine that protects against strain W135 costs up to US$40 a dose — far more than most African countries can afford.

At last week's emergency session in Burkina Faso, officials were pessimistic about staving off another epidemic of W135 without help from the world's largest drug companies. If a major outbreak of W135 were to occur, the WHO says, there would not be enough vaccine doses available at any price.

Link to Science news story

Reference: Science 298, 339 (2002)

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