Authorities in Nigeria have stepped up diphtheria vaccination as the latest outbreak of the disease kills more than 600 people.
Data from hospitals show that most of the deceased are children are children because they are unvaccinated. This is the worst outbreak since 2011 when 98 cases were reported.
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 September 24.
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.
Situation in affected states
The 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.
Kano state has become the epicentre of this health crisis, bearing the brunt of the outbreak with over 500 recorded fatalities. But the number of active cases in Kano has recently declined.
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 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.
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.