The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced plans to vaccinate more than 150,000 people against meningitis in eastern Chad following an outbreak of the highly contagious disease in overcrowded camps of refugees from Sudan's Darfur region.
Doctor Gregoire Batakao, the head of WHO emergency operations in eastern Chad, said on Wednesday that four suspected meningitis cases had been reported at the Bredjing and Treguine refugee camps near the border town of Adre between 4 and 11 January.
Two of these cases had been confirmed and samples had been sent to Paris for further analysis, he added.
"We have decided to…start vaccinating the population within a five km radius of the Farchana, Bredjing and Treguine camps by 25 January," Batakao told IRIN by telephone from Abeche, the main town in eastern Chad.
The Bredjing and Farchana camps together hold 60,000 of the 200,000 Sudanese refugees from the conflict in Darfur who have sought sanctuary in the semi-desert of eastern Chad.
Batakao said the vaccination programme would target a total of 151,450 people in the surrounding area, including the inhabitants of the nearby Farchana refugee camp.
However, the WHO official said the United Nations, international relief agencies operating in the area and the Chadian government, still had to find the money to buy the necessary vaccines and syringes.
Meningitis is a highly contagious infection of the brain which can lead to death. It is caused by viruses and bacteria that are often found in airborne dust. The disease is particularly prevalent in West Africa during the dry harmattan season which runs from October through to May.
Batakao warned that the high concentration of refugees in the overcrowded camps and precarious health conditions in the arid region where water is always scarce, made for a dangerous situation.
He also noted that a particularly virulent strain of meningitis had been detected, which had not previously been recorded in Chad.
The "A" strain of meningitis is the most common in Africa, but Batakao said the new cases were of the "W135" variety which is much more virulent.
The last major meningitis outbreak in Chad occurred in 1998. Several hundred people died of the disease on that occasion.
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