Uni students take a stand against meningitis

When it comes to raising awareness of severe meningococcal diseases among young people, nothing beats patients’ own testimonials. In Sydney, Australia, Sanofi helped set up a program that relies on students, rather than medical authorities, talking directly to their peers about prevention.

In 24 hours, Lily’s life changed forever

In 24 hours, 23-year-old Lily’s life changed forever. “On Christmas Eve, I got sick with what I thought was flu or a virus,” she recalls. The next day she woke up with a fever and, by Christmas night, she was throwing up and couldn’t keep water down. At midnight a rash had formed and her mother called the doctor, who sent her straight to the hospital. A few hours later Lily was put on dialysis, diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis, a potentially deadly disease that strikes fast and hard.

Sumeyra, 20 years old, also finds it difficult to recall how quickly she fell ill. “I had aching bones, vomiting, stiffness and abdominal pain,” she explains. When her father saw a rash developing, he took her to the hospital. They put her on antibiotics immediately. With multiple organ failure, Sumeyra was then put into an induced coma. Less than 24 hours had elapsed since the first symptoms had appeared.

Nothing will ever be the same for these two young women. Lily is still waiting for a kidney transplant and Sumeyra has chronic kidney disease. But they are alive. And today, after months of recovery, they are trying to rebuild their lives. Above all, they want to raise awareness so that young people do not have to endure the same suffering from meningitis, a rare but devastating infection that affects 1 million people worldwide every year.

Speaking out to Avoid Disaster

Lily and Sumeyra are among 383 cases of invasive meningococcal disease reported in Australia in 2017.

Adolescents are significant vectors of the disease and play a central role in transmission, with a peak at age 19. Survivors carry an important message: prevention is the most effective way to avoid rare but unpredictable, fast evolving and very severe meningococcal diseases.

In a program set up by Sanofi Pasteur and the University of Technology Sydney, students were asked to create proposals to raise awareness of meningococcal disease among their peers, with the winning group proposing an interactive art festival.

What this awareness campaign made so successful was that the information came from students rather than health authorities and that when survivors speak, awareness about prevention is raised.