A severe outbreak of diphtheria has emerged in Nigeria posing a significant public health issue with its presence across various regions within several states. The states most affected by this outbreak are Kano, Yobe, Katsina, Borno, Kaduna, and Bauchi, collectively accounting for about 97 percent of all reported cases. Kano, in particular, accounts largely for this outbreak, bearing an overwhelming burden of over 84 percent. Children aged 1 to 14 years in the country bear the brunt of this ailment, with a staggering 73 percent of cases.
Increasing count of individuals affected is probably a direct consequence of inadequate precautionary actions. A report by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention shows that diphtheria, a severe ailment, arises from strains of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae, which produce harmful toxins. It can also result in breathing distress, irregularities in heart rhythm, and even death. At the Northern Traditional Leaders’ Committee on Primary Health Care Service Delivery (NTLC) Quarterly Review Meeting in Abuja, Dr. Muhammad Pate, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, revealed that 98 percent of infected children in 19 different states have not received the necessary vaccination.
Government has set up an Emergency Task Force.
Pate urged for swift vaccination intervention to be carried out and encouraged the ministry and other key players to unite in an assertive approach towards combating the diphtheria crisis. Mallam Ahmed Yusuf, a farmer residing in Kwali Area Council, narrated the distressing story of his 13-year-old son whose dynamic life was abruptly halted by diphtheria. This ailment impaired his physical well-being and disrupted his educational pursuits, thus placing his future prospects at risk. Diphtheria differs because it creates a dense membrane in the nasal passages, throat, or airway caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria.
Experts called for urgent measures to halt any additional casualties. As an immediate reaction, the federal government has swiftly taken steps to address the matter at hand. Through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the government has set up an Emergency Task Force, led jointly by Dr. Faisal Shuaib and Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa. The federal government’s intervention in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF, and other partners has yielded positive results in terms of disease containment across various states and affected communities have received essential relief materials.
Extensive efforts have been made to vaccinate the affected.
With two types of the vaccine available, children between the age of 6 weeks and 4 years receive the Pentavalent vaccine, while those older than 4 years and up to 14 years get vaccinated with the Tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine. In the past few months, extensive efforts have been made to vaccinate the population in regions heavily impacted by the disease. Three rounds of vaccination campaigns have successfully been carried out in Kano state and have also been extended to other affected states such as Kaduna, Katsina, Bauchi, and Yobe. Also, routine vaccinations are being conducted at government healthcare facilities across the country.
As the government is stepping up its efforts to curb the spread of the disease, those affected are advised to wear face masks in public. A range of measures is being implemented, alongside the deployment of National Rapid Response Teams (NRRT) to different states to assist in containing and responding to outbreaks. Leveraging a network of 14 laboratories, these teams carry out surveillance and provide response support to affected states directly while also conducting both preliminary and confirmatory testing for diphtheria. As part of efforts to contain the disease, five more laboratories at the subnational level are being optimized.
Spreading awareness regarding vaccinations is crucial.
Speaking, Dr. Mary Boyd, Country Director of the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC) advised on spreading awareness regarding vaccinations, debunking misconceptions, and guaranteeing easy access to immunization services. In an interview with the Nigerian News Agency (NAN), Mr. Matthew Anyebe, a retired nurse, advocated for improved healthcare infrastructure, training for healthcare professionals, and availability of vaccines in distant regions. Communities must adopt safety measures outlined by experts, as both the Federal Government and its development partners vigorously combat the diphtheria outbreak.