The World Health Organization kicked off a huge drive this week to administer a new meningitis vaccine to 300 million Africans in a swathe of countries that suffer epidemics of the deadly disease.

The campaign was launched on Monday in Burkina Faso where between 12 and 16 million people are to be vaccinated over 10 days, health officials told AFP.

It will cover 25 sub-Saharan countries in the "meningitis belt" which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, WHO director general Margaret Chan said.

Meningitis killed 4,000 people out of 78,000 cases last year in Africa, the UN health body says.

The new MenAfriVac vaccine, produced in India, offers longer immunity against group A meningococcus, responsible for 80-85 percent of cases of meningitis in the region, and is cheaper than the one used before, the WHO says.