Nigeria records 11,587 suspected cases of diphtheria in 10 months

NIGERIA has reported a surge in diphtheria cases, with 11,586 suspected cases reported across 18 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), between December 2022 and September 24, 2023.

A statement by the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (FMOH&SW) on Monday, September 25, stated that since December 2022, the country had declared the re-emergence of the disease and confirmed 7,202 of the suspected to be positive.

The ministry also said it was aware of the mounting concern regarding the recent outbreak across several states in the nation, adding that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) and National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) had continued to respond to the disease outbreaks across different states in the country.

The confirmed cases, totalling 7,202, were spread across 105 Local Government Areas (LGAs), resulting in 453 reported deaths.

Kano leads as the state with the most cases, having reported 6,185 confirmed cases. The state was followed by Yobe (640), Katsina (213) and Borno (95).

Others are Kaduna  (16), Jigawa (14), Bauchi (8), Lagos (8), FCT (5), Gombe (5), Osun (3), Sokoto (3), Niger (2), Cross River (1), Enugu (1), Imo (1), Nasarawa (1) and Zamfara (1). 

According to the statement, 5,299, representing the majority of the confirmed cases (73.6 per cent) occurred among children aged one – 14 years, with those aged 5-14 bearing most of the brunt of the disease.

NCDC had earlier attributed the first outbreak and the high fatality rate to delays in diagnosis and the absence of diphtheria antitoxin during the early stage of the outbreak.

The NCDC said that despite the availability of a safe and cost-effective vaccine in the country, most confirmed diphtheria cases were unvaccinated.

80 per cent of confirmed cases unvaccinated 

The Health Ministry averred that given the escalation of the outbreak, 80 per cent of confirmed cases in the ongoing outbreak were unvaccinated.

Diphtheria, caused by a toxin produced by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, is a vaccine-preventable disease covered by one of the vaccines provided routinely through Nigeria’s childhood immunisation schedule. 

According to the Health Ministry, a historical gap in vaccination coverage is a driver of the outbreak, given the most affected age group (5–14year-olds) and results of the nationwide diphtheria immunity survey that shows only 42 per cent of children under 15 years old are fully protected from diphtheria.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Muhammad Ali Pate has set up a national emergency task team co-chaired by the Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) and the Director General of the NCDC for higher-level coordination of outbreak response efforts.

“This includes ensuring optimal collaboration of all relevant health stakeholders in this fight. Other prominent members of the task force include the director of Public Health-FMOH, representatives from the Federal Ministry of Information, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), USCDC, USAID, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, other non-governmental organisations and development partners,” the statement added.

The Minister also ordered the intensification of routine diphtheria immunisation and reactive vaccination campaigns in 33 local government areas (LGAs) across five states – Bauchi, Katsina, Yobe, Kano, and Kaduna by the NPHCDA.

He also directed mobilising procurement of vaccines and essential logistics for three large-scale outbreak response campaigns in 56 LGAs across seven priority states – Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Yobe.

The Ministry, therefore, called on the parents to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated against diphtheria with the three doses of diphtheria antitoxin-containing pentavalent vaccine given as part of Nigeria’s childhood immunisation schedule.

On September 16, The ICIR reported that the country witnessed a second wave of diphtheria outbreak. 

Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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