By Asmau Ahmad
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it is amplifying its efforts to counter a growing outbreak of diphtheria that has affected children in 27 states in Nigeria.
The Communications Officer, UNICEF Nigeria, Safiya Akau, said this in a statement on Thursday in Abuja.
According to her, in response to the outbreak, UNICEF is closely collaborating with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the affected states and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).
The collaboration includes providing technical support to plan and operationalise the response.
Also, that UNICEF’s commitment extends to several key interventions, which include planning, implementing, and funding risk communication and community engagement activities.
Others are transporting vaccines and related equipment to the affected states and strengthening routine immunisation.
The organisation said it was also helping to train health workers and volunteers for service delivery, risk communication, and community engagement and supervising outbreak response activities.
According to the statement, UNICEF is also supporting in procuring and supplying face masks, hand sanitisers, and antibiotics to treat diphtheria, while supplying laboratory consumables and biosafety cabinets for testing of suspected cases at the NCDC.
It noted that as at July, 3,850 suspected cases were reported with 1,387 confirmed as diphtheria.
“The disease has tragically claimed 122 lives, with a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 8.7 per cent.
“The outbreak has spread mainly to Kano, Yobe, Katsina, Lagos, FCT, Sokoto, and Zamfara states, which accounts for 98.0 per cent of suspected cases.
“Most confirmed cases, approximately 71.5 per cent, have occurred among children aged two to 14 years.”
The statement quoted the UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Ms Cristian Munduate, as saying that it was heart-breaking to note that only 22 per cent of the confirmed cases received their routine childhood immunisation vaccinations.
“Most of these affected children, especially those who unfortunately passed away, had not received a single dose of the vaccine.
“The need to reach the hard-to-reach areas has never been more critical.”
Munduate emphasised the pressing need to reach children who had missed out on their vaccines due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
“Many children did not receive their vaccines during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“We now urgently need to catch up. These ‘zero-dose’ children, those who haven’t received a single dose of vaccine, are a primary concern.”
The organisation, however, urged all parents and guardians to ensure that their children received routine immunisations to protect them from preventable diseases like diphtheria.
It added that it would continue to intensify efforts to address the ongoing outbreak and work alongside the government to achieve a healthier, safer future for every Nigerian child.