Vaccine research in The Gambia: eradicating Hib disease

Sixty years of MRC research in The Gambia has led to a national vaccination programme that has completely wiped out Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) disease. One of the most common causes of meningitis and bacterial pneumonia in children, Hib is estimated to cause at least three million cases of serious illness and hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, mostly in developing countries.

MRC scientists first began work on Hib 20 years ago when they identified the bacterium responsible for the disease. Between 1993 and 1995, the MRC tested a vaccine against Hib in 42,000 Gambian children. The results persuaded the Gambian Government to begin one of the first country-wide Hib immunisation programmes in Africa.

The researchers subsequently examined the vaccine’s effectiveness, looking at the incidence of Hib disease from the start of routine vaccination in May 1997 until April 2002. They found that Hib meningitis had been eradicated in children aged up to five.