Outbreak of diphtheria kills 600 in Nigeria

Source: africanews

Nigeria is grappling with a devastating diphtheria outbreak that has claimed the lives of more than 600 people, primarily children, since its onset in December 2022. This recent outbreak surpasses the 2011 incident, which reported a mere 98 cases.

Kano state, located in the northern region, has become the epicenter of this health crisis, bearing the brunt of the outbreak with over 500 recorded fatalities. However, there is a glimmer of hope as the number of active cases has recently declined.

Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease that primarily affects the nose and throat and can also lead to skin ulcers. It spreads through coughs, sneezes, and close contact with infected individuals, with severe cases often proving fatal.

Regrettably, many of the affected children were unvaccinated. Dr. Faisal Shuaib, the head of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, emphasized the preventable nature of this disease during a visit to a diphtheria isolation center in Kano city, stating, “Witnessing the young children suffering from this entirely preventable disease at the center today was profoundly heart-wrenching.”

The death toll continues to rise, with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) reporting 453 fatalities and 11,587 suspected cases as of 24 September. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the actual fatality and infection rates might be higher due to inadequate testing and some patients not reporting their symptoms. However, measures such as contact tracing have contributed to a decline in case numbers.

This devastating outbreak has affected 19 of Nigeria’s 36 states and the federal capital, Abuja. The hardest-hit states are all located in the north, including Kano, Yobe, Katsina, Borno, Jigawa, and Kaduna. 

Health authorities are urging parents with unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children to ensure they receive immunization, emphasizing that vaccination is the most effective means of controlling the ongoing crisis.

The WHO highlights that only 57% of Nigerians have received the pentavalent vaccine, which guards against five life-threatening diseases, including diphtheria. To avert future diphtheria outbreaks, Nigeria must increase vaccination coverage to reach at least 80% of the population, according to the WHO.

The last significant diphtheria outbreak in the country occurred in 2011 when 21 people lost their lives, and 98 were infected in Borno state, as reported by the WHO.

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