ETHIOPIA: Meningitis kills 18 in Amhara region
ADDIS ABABA, 30 July (IRIN) - An outbreak of meningitis has killed 18 people and infected 63 in Ethiopia's northern Amhara region, officials said.
"The disease broke out in two villages under Kelela woreda [district] of South Wollo zone," said Milliyon Wendabeku, a medical expert with the Public Health Emergency Management Sector of the Ministry of Health.
The ministry first received reports of the outbreak on 17 July, detailing the symptoms of the disease as fever, headache, neck stiffness and vomiting.
"The symptoms are related to meningitis diseases," Milliyon told a news conference in Addis Ababa on 29 July.
He said that upon receipt of the report, the ministry sent a medical team - drawn from its staff and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) - to the area. The team examined 147 suspected cases of meningitis.
"During the medical examination, the team confirmed that 81 people were infected with the disease," Milliyon said. "Out of the 81 patients, 18 of them have since died."
Ethiopia is one of the countries considered by WHO to be in the "meningitis belt" - stretching from Senegal in West Africa to the Horn of Africa.
According to WHO, "meningitis belt" epidemics typically start during the dry season, from January to March, and end at the onset of the rainy season, from May to June.
Milliyon said the major problem with the latest outbreak - said to have lasted from late June to mid-July - was lack of transportation and communication logistics, which, he said, had delayed treatment efforts.
He said the arrival of the medical team in Amhara region resulted in the opening of a temporary medical station and improved the treatment of the disease. The team also vaccinated an estimated 9,000 people in the area.
"Thirty patients were admitted and recovered in the temporary medical station," Milliyon said. "We have not seen any new patient in the last three days and no death has been reported."
Ahmed Imano, head of public relations in the Ministry of Health, said Amhara region had the capacity to treat up to 300,000 people.