1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. Southern Africa
  4. Angola

Migrants and meningitis – a moving threat

A truck of smuggled migrants leaving Agadez to cross the Sahara desert into Libya and Algeria.
(Ibrahim Diallo Manzo/IRIN)

Health workers in northern Niger, a popular crossing for sub-Saharan migrants travelling to northern Africa and beyond, have reported an increase in migrants hospitalised for meningitis at the state’s regional hospital.

During the week of 6 April a hospital nurse who requested anonymity told IRIN that four migrants were hospitalised with meningitis. “They have all left; one of them left without ever being seen by the doctor,” said the nurse, who works in infectious disease control.

But even more problematic are migrants who do not seek or receive medical care, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). “Lack of adequate health care [for migrants] will also constitute a risk for communities that come into contact with migrants, whether in transit or destination countries,” Daniel Lopez-Acuña, director of WHO’s Health Action in Crisis Programmes, told IRIN.

Agadez Governor Abba Mallam Boukar told IRIN the increase in meningitis infections is due to the growing number of migrants crossing Niger. “These migrants come with their illnesses. Meningitis spreads in dense populations, which is not the case here [Agadez region] where there is one resident per square kilometre.”

Stateless and sick
 ISRAEL: Appeal for free medical treatment for all children
 PAKISTAN: Workers with HIV deported from Gulf States
 SOUTH AFRICA: Sleeping rough better than repatriation to Zimbabwe

According to the 2005 government census, fewer than 350,000 people lived in Agadez’s 15 communes spread out over more than 670,000 sqkm.

But no matter the source, exposure to the disease can be dangerous for all, said WHO’s Lopez-Acuña. “With outbreaks of communicable diseases, you cannot make the distinction of who deserves care; it is a public health risk for all.” He added that the global financial crisis may force governments in poor countries to cut back health budgets while more people migrate to seek a livelihood.

“The compounded effect of the economic crisis on health matters can translate to increased risks, particularly for vulnerable, stateless and often stigmatised groups.”



In neighbouring Nigeria there were some 40,000 reported infections as of 12 April; Médecins Sans Frontières estimates six million people need meningitis vaccinations in Nigeria and two million in Niger.

The meningitis outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa spread earlier and more rapidly this year than during the same period last year, according to WHO. In Niger as of 12 April, almost 10,000 people had been infected, with almost 400 dying compared to 1,338 infections and 91 deaths this time last year.

One-third of Niger’s meningitis infections have been reported in the southern department of Zinder, which borders Nigeria. The more sparsely populated northern Agadez region has reported fewer than 150 cases and 12 deaths. Abari Ezeï with the Agadez regional health office told IRIN almost 140,000 people have been vaccinated.

Agack Algaset, a doctor in the private health clinic Santé Horizon in Agadez City, told IRIN migrants prefer to go to the regional hospital where a consultation costs US$3 –private clinic visits are $4 – and hospitalisation costs $5 per day. But for any patient diagnosed with HIV, tuberculosis or meningitis, regardless of nationality, treatment and hospitalisation are free.

Unaware of the possibility of free treatment, an undocumented migrant who gave his name as Ojuku and home country as Nigeria told IRIN from Agadez that he relied on traditional remedies. “When I fell ill last week, I bought potatoes that I cut into little pieces, and had with a strong coffee to cure myself. Imagine if I were at the hospital. How would I pay?”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian. 

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.