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An Early Warning System to Stay Ahead of Africa’s Meningitis Problem

A weather-based surveillance system that could offer advanced warning of outbreaks of meningitis is being piloted across sub-Saharan Africa in a bid to save lives, researchers have revealed. According to the Meningitis Research Foundation, meningitis affects about 5 million people around the world each year, one in 10 of whom die, while two in 10 are left with lasting impacts, such as brain damage. One area that has had major outbreaks of bacterial meningitis – a contagious and particularly serious form of the condition – is the so-called “meningitis belt” that cuts across a host of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with outbreaks most common between November and June. That, experts say, is in part because hot and dusty conditions raise the risk of bacterial meningitis: among various mechanisms, previous studies have suggested dust can irritate the lining of the nose and throat, making it easier for microbes to get into the bloodstream and cause infection. The pilot, which is backed by the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, is a joint effort by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, African SWIFT and the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development.