Niamey - At least 265 people have died so far this year in a meningitis epidemic in Niger amid a shortage of vaccines needed to prevent the disease's spread, the West African nation's health minister said on Tuesday.
Some 3 856 cases of meningitis were recorded between January 1 and May 4, with five of the country's eight regions, including the capital Niamey, particularly hard hit, Mano Aghali said in an address broadcast on state-owned television.
The government shut all schools in the region around Niamey and launched a campaign to vaccinate children aged 2 to 15 in April at a time when the outbreak had killed 85 people.
However, classrooms reopened a week later and the vaccination campaign has yet to reach the schools.
Also read: Meningitis epidemic kills more than 250 in Niger
"Niger is facing a shortage of vaccines on the international market," Aghali said. "We only have 50% of what's needed to cover our vaccination targets."
In 2010-2011, the uranium and oil-producer, one of the world's poorest nations, successfully carried out a campaign to eliminate the "A" strain of meningitis.
Meningococcal meningitis infects the thin lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can cause severe brain damage, deafness, epilepsy or necrosis and if untreated is fatal in 50% of cases.
Authorities said the current outbreak included the W135, "C" strain and pneumococcal kinds of meningitis.