Officials in multiple West African nations are working to control large outbreaks of diphtheria. In Nigeria, a senior health official reported on Thursday that millions of people are receiving vaccinations to address significant gaps in protection against the disease.
Since the beginning of the current outbreak in December 2022, 11,640 people in Nigeria have been diagnosed with the disease and at least 573 of them have passed away. However, officials believe that the actual number of deaths could be significantly higher in states that are unable to detect many cases, although the toll has been decreasing due to treatment efforts.
As of October, a total of 865 cases have been recorded in Niger, resulting in 37 fatalities. In Guinea, since the outbreak began in June, there have been 497 cases and 58 reported deaths.
According to Ifedayo Adetifa, director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, this is the biggest outbreak in recorded history.
The extremely infectious bacterial infection has been documented in 20 out of Nigeria’s 36 states up to this point.
According to a statement released on Tuesday, the lack of widespread vaccination in the area has been a significant contributing factor to the elevated infection rate, as reported by the French healthcare group Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF.
In Nigeria, a government survey found that only 42% of children under 15 are adequately protected against diphtheria. This falls far below the recommended immunization rate of 80-85% set by the World Health Organization to ensure community protection. Similarly, Guinea has an immunization rate of 47%, which is also below the recommended level.
According to the MSF, the affected countries are facing worsened conditions due to a global shortage of the diphtheria vaccine. This is exacerbated by the increased demand for the vaccine to address outbreaks.
Dr. Dagemlidet Tesfaye Worku, the emergency medical program manager for MSF in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, expressed concern about the insufficient rate of vaccination. She emphasized the urgent need for a significant increase in the scale of vaccination efforts.
Adetifa, the head of Nigeria’s CDC, stated that the government is increasing efforts to vaccinate specific groups while also supporting states in improving their ability to identify and handle cases.
However, some states are still facing difficulties, particularly Kano. This state has more than 75% of the reported cases in Nigeria, yet it only has two treatment centers for diphtheria. This information was shared by Abubakar Labaran Yusuf, the state’s chief health officer.
“When individuals are required to travel long distances in order to receive treatment, it poses a difficulty,” stated Adetifa.
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