Friday, July 15, 2011

Inspirational Stories

 Watching a morning news program on ABC last month, I was struck by a report by Richard Bessler, ABC Senior Health and Medical Editor. I searched a bit on the web and found a blog entry by Dr. Bessler that I could share. It is about the meningitis vaccine and what can be accomplished when one person sets their mind on a goal.

Dr. Marc LeForce had a quixotic dream back in 2004 to make a vaccine for the type A strain of meningitis to sell for less than 50 cents a dose. The meningitis vaccine in use in the U.S. at the time cost more than $100 per dose. There was a long history of the Type A meningococcal meningitis sweeping through parts of Africa on a regular basis during the dry season, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving even more damaged - loss of hearing is common in survivors. It is one of the more lethal of the meningitis strains that plagues Africa.

Dr. LeForce succeeded in getting the global community to come together to address the need for a Type A vaccine: more than a dozen organizations, including WHO, PATH, the FDA, and the Serum Institute of India agreed that this was the right thing to do.  Their effort took ten years and as Dr. Bessler wrote, "resulted in a miracle".

This spring Dr. Bessler traveled to Burkina Faso, a country in northern Africa whose population has been decimated by the disease. He visited a hospital children's ward reserved for the treatment of meningitis victims that was empty. The MeningAfrique vaccine had been launched in December and over a 12-day period, the entire at-risk population in Burkina Faso was offered vaccine - I found figures that 12 million at-risk children in Burkina Faso were vaccinated. The hospital that Dr. Bessler visited had only seen one case this year - in a young woman who had not been vaccinated.

What an awesome story!  One strain of a disease wiped out through one person's dream and much dedication by the global community. There is still more to be done - I found another story that a new strain, Type X, had surfaced in April but this massive effort lights a path for continued success in wiping out this cruel disease.

If you would like to know more, you read Dr. Bessler's report.