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Nigeria records 453 deaths from diphtheria

Diphtheria, caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae, is a vaccine-preventable disease covered by routine immunization in Nigeria.

The Federal Ministry of Health has raised an alarm over a growing diphtheria outbreak spanning multiple states in Nigeria.

The outbreak has claimed about 453 lives among confirmed cases, resulting in a case fatality rate (CFR) of 6.3%.

As of September 24, 7,202 confirmed cases, originating from 105 local government areas across 18 states and the Federal Capital Territory, have been reported.

The highest concentration of confirmed cases; 6,185, has been recorded in Kano, with other affected states including Yobe (640), Katsina (213), Borno (95), Kaduna (16), Jigawa (14), Bauchi (eight), Lagos (eight), FCT (five), Gombe (five), Osun (three), Sokoto (three), Niger (two), Cross Rivers (one), Enugu (one), Imo (one), Nasarawa (one), and Zamfara (one).

A significant majority of the confirmed cases, according to the figures released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) on its website, totaling 5,299 (73.6%), are among children aged one to 14 years, with the most severely impacted age group being five to 14 years old.

The NCDC said 80% of infected people remain unvaccinated.

The health minister, Professor Muhammad Ali Pate, has established 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, to enhance the coordination of outbreak response efforts, ensuring the collaborative engagement of all relevant health stakeholders.

The task force also includes key members, such as the Director of Public Health (FMOH), representatives from the Federal Ministry of Information, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Centre for Disease Control (USCDC), GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and various non-governmental organisations and development partners.

Causes of current outbreak

The current outbreak, according to the NCDC, is partly attributed to historical gaps in vaccination coverage, particularly among the most affected age group (5–14 years).

A nationwide diphtheria immunity survey has revealed that only 42% of children under 15 years old are fully protected against diphtheria.

The national response to the diphtheria outbreak encompasses a range of measures, including response coordination, surveillance, laboratory investigations, vaccination campaigns, case management, and risk communication activities.

Efforts are now intensifying to swiftly contain and combat this health crisis.

Vaccination is crucial in the fight against diphtheria.

In the ongoing battle against the diphtheria outbreak in Nigeria, vaccination stands out as the most effective shield against this deadly disease, the NCDC said.

Parents were advised to take their children aged 0–14 years to the nearest government health facility to get vaccinated in accordance with the routine immunisation schedule and ongoing reactive vaccination campaign in the affected LGAs.

The NCDC also urged all members of the public to refrain from rumour-mongering and share only verified updates from reputable sources such as FMOH&SW, NCDC, NPHCDA, SMOH, WHO, UNICEF, and other authenticated sources.

Writing by Omolola Ameen; Editing by Saadatu Albashir and Tony Okerafor