Abuja, Nigeria– The National Emergency Task Force and Coordination for Diphtheria in Nigeria has issued a stark warning, revealing that the states of Kano, Yobe, and four others are currently grappling with a worrisome surge in diphtheria cases. Despite ongoing vaccination efforts, the outbreak continues to challenge the healthcare system and pose a significant threat to affected regions.
Escalation of Diphtheria Cases
The resurgence of diphtheria in Nigeria began in December 2022, and since then, it has proven to be a formidable adversary.
This deadly bacterial infection has hit Kano, Yobe, Katsina, Borno, Kaduna, and Bauchi states the hardest, collectively accounting for a staggering 97 percent of all reported cases. Kano State, in particular, has become the epicenter of the outbreak, bearing over 84 percent of the total cases.
Children Bear the Brunt
The most concerning aspect of this outbreak is its impact on children. Over 73 percent of reported cases affect children aged 1 to 14 years. Even more troubling is the fact that approximately 18 percent of these affected children have not received any vaccinations against diphtheria, leaving them particularly vulnerable to the disease.
Vaccination Campaigns Underway
Dr. Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and co-chair of the task force, emphasized that vaccination is a cornerstone of Nigeria’s response to the diphtheria outbreak. Two vaccines are currently in use: the Pentavalent vaccine, administered to children aged 6 weeks to 4 years, and the Tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine, provided to children aged above four years to 14 years.
Comprehensive vaccination campaigns have been conducted in recent months across the affected regions, with a strong focus on Kano State, the epicenter of the outbreak. Kano, along with other affected states like Kaduna, Katsina, Bauchi, and Yobe, have executed vaccination campaigns targeting high-burden areas. Routine vaccinations are also being carried out at government healthcare facilities nationwide.
Community Engagement and Communication
Recognizing the importance of community trust and participation, dedicated teams are actively engaging with communities on the ground. They are addressing questions and concerns through various approaches, including public health advisories, social and behavioral change materials, media engagement, and sensitization campaigns aimed at various community stakeholders.
Government Commitment and Collaboration
Dr. Shuaib affirmed the government’s commitment to controlling the outbreak while simultaneously enhancing healthcare systems, ensuring vaccine availability, and building response capacity to tackle future outbreaks. Collaborations with partners, such as Gavi, the vaccine alliance, continue to expedite the procurement and delivery of additional vaccines.
Beyond Vaccination: Additional Measures
While vaccines are a crucial component of the response, it is equally important to implement additional preventive measures. These include wearing facemasks, practicing thorough handwashing, and maintaining physical distancing to reduce airborne contact with the diphtheria-causing bacteria. Dr. Shuaib emphasized that these measures should be implemented without stigmatizing or discriminating against affected individuals.
The battle against the diphtheria outbreak in Nigeria remains an ongoing struggle that demands collective efforts. It is not a challenge that the government can overcome in isolation.
Active participation from every citizen, including ensuring children are vaccinated and encouraging others to do the same, is imperative. Public cooperation and adherence to safety measures are critical in conquering this outbreak.
The National Emergency Task Force and Coordination for Diphtheria in Nigeria remain steadfast in their mission to control and ultimately eliminate diphtheria from the country.