How many diseases are so devastating that entire regions are named for them? And what if, as early as 2015, we could stop one such disease in its tracks—in the very countries hit hardest?

That’s the promise of a new, affordable meningitis vaccine recently released in several West African countries.

The terrible toll of meningitis A in sub-Saharan Africa’s “meningitis belt” led the World Health Organization and PATH (a Burness client) to form the PATH Meningitis Vaccine Project ten years ago. In 2009 alone, epidemic meningitis—virtually eliminated in the developed world – killed 4,000 and infected 78,000, most of them children and young adults. At least 10 percent of its victims die a day or two after developing their first symptoms. Between 10 and 20 percent of survivors are left with brain damage, hearing loss or a learning disability.

The Meningitis Vaccine Project’s new MenAfriVac vaccine promises to change these numbers.

It can be given to children as young as one, lasts longer than alternatives, and was developed for less than one-tenth of the cost of most vaccines. By partnering with an Indian pharmaceutical company and using technologies donated by the US Food and Drug Administration, the PATH Meningitis Vaccine Project bypassed pharmaceutical companies in the industrialized world. The result? Each dose will cost less than fifty cents.

Massive campaigns to introduce the vaccine in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are just winding down. A great push is on to raise the more than US$500 million needed to make the new technology available throughout the nations of sub-Saharan Africa; today, there is hope that the meningitis belt could soon be a thing of the past.

You can learn more from the Good Morning America segment embedded above, or at this Guardian article.