The Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has raised the alarm that Diphtheria is worsening in Nigeria, especially in the northern Nigeria states of Bauchi, Borno and Kano.
The international health organisation said thousands of people have been infected and hundreds of others have died from the disease.
The MSF said its teams treated 6,707 suspected and confirmed cases in Kano, 110 cases in Borno and 21 cases in Bauchi. It said several other suspected cases are under surveillance across the country. However, around 4,000 suspected cases were recorded nationwide.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial disease which can present in respiratory or cutaneous forms. Its breakout was announced by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in January this year.
“A serious diphtheria outbreak is tearing through Nigeria, where thousands of people have been infected and hundreds more have died. With low national vaccination coverage and a worldwide shortage of lifesaving antitoxin threatening to worsen the outbreak, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges the international community to immediately scale up support to improve treatment, preventive measures and contact tracing to control the outbreak’s spread,” Abdulkareem Yakubu, the MSF field communications officer said in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES.
“We’re currently seeing more than 700 people with suspected diphtheria and admitting more than 280 patients on a weekly basis in Kano State’s two diphtheria treatment centres,” says Dr Hashim Juma Omar, MSF emergency project medical doctor.
“Women and children aged under five are the most vulnerable groups and are the people most affected right now in Kano State. And they really need help,” the statement added.
Mr Yakubu added that despite the increase in the number of infected people, medical response has been effective.
“MSF teams are responding to the outbreak in Kano, Borno and Bauchi states. However, responding to the outbreak has proved challenging, due to a worldwide shortage of lifesaving diphtheria antitoxin used in treatment, caused by dwindling production capacity.
“Funding for vaccines and implementation costs remains a barrier to scaling up; Kano State alone requires millions of doses to target at-risk groups,” he said.
Mr Yakubu said the MSF provided 2,000 doses of diphtheria antitoxin last month in Kano and added a 20-bed diphtheria treatment clinic to our paediatric hospital among other efforts to treat the cases.
“In light of these challenges, improved efforts to reduce the disease’s transmission and to strengthen outbreak preparation and response in Nigeria are crucial. This includes vaccination; underlying the outbreak is a low vaccination rate, with only 70 per cent of children having received their first dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. The decline in immunisation led to a reported 25 million un- or under-vaccinated children in Nigeria in 2021.
“In addition to urgent antitoxin and vaccination needs, we urge international organisations to immediately scale up improved surveillance and contact tracing, and measures to strengthen the local health system,” Mr Yakubu said.
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