The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the WHO are urging vaccine manufacturers to step up meningitis C-containing vaccine production by five million doses before the 2016 meningitis season starts in January.

“Meningitis tends to hit Africa in cycles. Cases of meningitis C have been rising since 2013, first in Nigeria in 2013 and 2014, and then in Niger in 2015. We have to be ready for a much larger number of cases during the 2016 meningitis season,” said William Perea, Coordinator for Control of Epidemic Diseases Unit at WHO, said in a press release from WHO issued this week.

While substantial progress has been made in recent years in protecting Africa from other main sub-types of meningitis with, for example, the introduction of the MenAfrVac vaccine against meningitis A in 2010, much work needs to be done to protect the African meningitis belt from meningitis C outbreaks, according to the release.

“We have been working to reinforce detection and response systems, and are working to secure other sources of meningitis C vaccine in Cuba and Brazil, but the manufacturers have not yet submitted an application for WHO prequalification,” Alejandro Costa, ICG Secretariat, said in the release. “Until they do, we can only turn to those manufacturers who are already prequalified and have provided vaccine in the past. We need to get them to produce and provide vaccine, in the right quantity and at an affordable price.”

In just the first six months of 2015, there have been 12,000 cases of meningitis C in Niger and Nigeria, and 800 deaths, according to material in the release. 

The four organizations are stressing that vaccination remains key to preventing meningitis, noting that since the introduction of the meningitis A conjugate vaccine (MenAfriVac) in 2010 in 15 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the meningitis disease burden has been “dramatically reduced.”