By Asmau Ahmad
Save the Children International (SCI), said only 42 per cent of children under 15 years in Nigeria are fully protected from diphtheria, a highly contagious bacterial infection that can be fatal without treatment.
SCI said a staggering 7,202 cases of diphtheria have been confirmed in Nigeria so far, with cases skyrocketing in recent months and children severely affected.
According to the organisation, in this most recent outbreak, 80 per cent of the confirmed cases were unvaccinated people.
The organisation in a statement said there have been 453 deaths confirmed since the outbreak started in May 2022, with most cases recorded in the past three months.
It called for urgent funding to tackle the outbreak and the deployment of emergency health teams to affected areas, adding that the majority of the confirmed cases were recorded in Kano and 73.6 per cent of all cases are children under 14 years.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Nigeria is currently facing a second wave of diphtheria outbreak after a first wave of the outbreak was recorded between January and May.
The global health body noted that Kano, Katsina, Yobe, Bauchi, Kaduna, and Borno states accounted for most of the suspected cases.
Save the Children said Nigeria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world with efforts to strengthen routine immunisation coverage and reduce under-five mortality having limited success.
“Currently only 42 per cent of children under 15 in Nigeria are fully protected from diphtheria, and in this most recent outbreak, 80 per cent of the confirmed cases are unvaccinated people.
“In coordination with local authorities, Save the Children is launching a wide-scale health response in the three most impacted states of Kano, Yobe, and Katsina.
“Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit is deploying health experts and supply chain staff to help over-stretched clinics detect and treat diphtheria cases and to support mass vaccination campaigns across the worst hit areas.
“However, Save the Children is warning a mass vaccination campaign will only be successful if the vaccine shortage is urgently dealt with.
“Severe shortages in Nigeria of the required vaccine and the antitoxin needed to treat the disease mean the situation could continue to escalate placing many children at risk of severe illness and death, said the child rights organisation,” the organization further stated.
Save the Children’s Interim Country Director for Nigeria, Faton Krasniqi, said, “The entire humanitarian community is alert to the crisis here.
“We are coordinating closely together and working alongside the Nigerian Ministry of Health to ensure we reach everyone who needs treatment and to contain the spread of the disease.
“Diphtheria can be fatal in more than 10 percent of cases, but this can increase in places like overcrowded displacement camps or informal settlements in cities, where families have limited access to health services or where health facilities are overwhelmed.
“The response to this outbreak requires an urgent injection of funding and a large supply of vaccines to ensure we can contain it, and to save children’s lives.”
The organisation called on donors to support the comprehensive response being launched by the government, United Nations, and aid agencies to support local health services to cope with the influx of diphtheria cases, procure more vaccines, and roll out a mass vaccination campaign.
WHO advised that the control of diphtheria should be based on primary prevention of disease by ensuring high population immunity through vaccination, and secondary prevention of spread by the rapid investigation of close contacts to ensure prompt treatment of those infected.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium species that affects the nose, throat, and sometimes, the skin of an individual.
It noted that people most at risk of contracting diphtheria are children and adults who have not received any or a single dose of the pentavalent vaccine (a diphtheria toxoid-containing vaccine), people who live in a crowded environment, in areas with poor sanitation and healthcare workers who are exposed to suspected or confirmed cases of diphtheria.
NCDC added that the disease spreads easily through direct contact with infected people, droplets from coughing or sneezing, and contact with contaminated clothing and objects.
It explained that the symptoms of diphtheria include fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, red eyes (conjunctivitis,) and neck swelling, adding that in severe cases, a thick grey or white patch appears on the tonsils and/or at the back of the throat associated with difficulty breathing.