58% of Children at Risk of Diphtheria: Nigeria Battles Ongoing Outbreak

58% of Children at Risk of Diphtheria: Nigeria Battles Ongoing Outbreak


Daud Olatunji 

The Federal Ministry of Health & Social Welfare (FMOH&SW) has expressed  concerns  about the escalating diphtheria outbreak currently plaguing several states in Nigeria.

 The government stated that a nationwide diphtheria immunity survey revealed that only 42% of children under 15 years old are fully protected from diphtheria.

The  government says since the confirmation of the re-emergence of diphtheria in Nigeria in December 2022, it  has been vigorously responding to outbreaks across different states with the aid of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).

The government in a statement said as of September 24th, 2023, the country has reported a staggering 11,587 suspected cases of diphtheria. 

The statement read further “among these cases, 7,202 have been confirmed, with outbreaks occurring in 105 Local Government Areas (LGAs) spanning 18 different states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

“The epicenter of the outbreak has been Kano, which recorded 6,185 confirmed cases, followed by Yobe (640), Katsina (213), Borno (95), Kaduna (16), and other affected states.

 “Alarmingly, a significant 73.6% of the confirmed cases are among children aged 1 to 14 years, with the majority of those affected falling within the 5-14 years age group. Tragically, 453 deaths have occurred among confirmed cases, resulting in a case fatality rate (CFR) of 6.3%.

“The Honorable Coordinating Minister of the FMOH&SW, Professor Muhammad Ali Pate, recognizing the urgency of the situation, has established a national emergency task team. 

“This task team, co-chaired by the Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) and the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC), aims to enhance the coordination of outbreak response efforts.

” It includes representatives from various health organizations and development partners.

“Diphtheria is a vaccine-preventable disease caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Nigeria’s childhood immunization schedule covers this disease. 

“However, a historical gap in vaccination coverage, especially among the affected age group (5–14-year-olds), has played a pivotal role in this outbreak. 

“In response to the outbreak, the FMOH &SW has undertaken a comprehensive strategy involving various pillars:

“The establishment of the Diphtheria Emergency Task Team responsible for coordinating all response activities at national and sub-national levels. An Incident Management System (IMS) and a National Diphtheria Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) have been activated to streamline efforts.

“The development of National Diphtheria Surveillance and Response guidelines, training of healthcare professionals, and harmonization of surveillance and laboratory data from across states and labs.

“Expanding the Diphtheria Laboratory Network and building the capacity of state-owned public health laboratories for diphtheria diagnosis.

” Procurement and distribution of diphtheria antitoxin (DAT) and intravenous erythromycin, establishment of Diphtheria Treatment Centres/Wards.

“Intensified routine diphtheria immunization and reactive vaccination campaigns in affected areas.

” Extensive public awareness campaigns, dissemination of materials, and coordination of stakeholders’ meetings at the national and sub-national levels.

“Efforts are ongoing to contain this diphtheria outbreak and protect the vulnerable children of Nigeria. Public cooperation, vaccination, and adherence to preventive measures remain crucial in this battle against the disease.”

Meanwhile,parents and healthcare workers in Nigeria are on red alert as the country confronts a concerning surge in diphtheria cases.

Health authorities are issuing crucial advice to protect the public from this potentially deadly disease, emphasizing the importance of vaccination and vigilant care.

Diphtheria, a highly contagious bacterial infection, has reemerged as a significant health concern in Nigeria. To curb its spread and protect vulnerable populations, authorities are urging immediate action.

Parents are being called upon to play a vital role in the battle against diphtheria. They are advised to ensure their children are fully vaccinated against diphtheria with the three doses of the diphtheria antitoxin-containing pentavalent vaccine, a critical component of Nigeria’s childhood immunization schedule. Vaccination is identified as the primary defense against this deadly disease.

Healthcare workers are facing increased pressure in the wake of the diphtheria outbreak. They are not only tasked with delivering care but also maintaining a high index of suspicion for diphtheria cases. Stringent infection prevention and control precautions have become the new standard in patient care to safeguard both healthcare workers and the patients they serve.

Recognizing the risk faced by healthcare workers, authorities are urging all medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists, and support staff, to receive the diphtheria vaccine. This proactive approach aims to fortify the healthcare system and ensure the safety of those working tirelessly to combat the disease.

 Individuals showing signs and symptoms suggestive of the disease are encouraged to seek immediate medical attention at healthcare facilities or designated diphtheria treatment centers. Equally crucial is timely reporting. Patients and healthcare workers are urged to notify their Local Government Area (LGA), State Disease Surveillance Officer (DSNO), State Ministry of Health helpline, or the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) through the toll-free line on 6232.

Close contacts of confirmed diphtheria cases are being closely monitored and managed according to guidelines. This approach not only limits the disease’s spread but also ensures that potentially exposed individuals receive the necessary care.

The most effective protection against diphtheria is vaccination, and the Federal Government of Nigeria is taking action. Free, safe, and effective vaccines are available at all Primary Healthcare Centers across the nation.

The public is urged to seize the opportunity presented by ongoing vaccination campaigns in all states. Parents are kindly advised to bring their children aged 0 to 14 years to the nearest government health facility, aligning with the routine immunization schedule and reactive vaccination campaigns in affected Local Government Areas (LGAs).

Amid the battle against diphtheria, authorities are also combatting misinformation. The public is advised to rely solely on verified information from trusted sources such as the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH&SW), Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), State Ministry of Health (SMOH), World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and other reputable sources.

The Federal Ministry of Health, the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) stand united in their commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of the Nigerian population.

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