The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria office said it is amplifying its efforts to counter a growing outbreak of diphtheria that has affected children in 27 states.
According to UNICEF, as of July 2023, 3,850 suspected cases were reported with 1,387 confirmed as diphtheria,
as the disease has tragically claimed 122 lives, with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 8.7%.
In a statement made available by UNICEF in Abuja, the outbreak has affected mainly Kano, Yobe, Katsina, Lagos, FCT, Sokoto, and Zamfara, which account for 98.0% of the suspected cases. Most confirmed cases, approximately 71.5%, have occurred among children aged 2 – 14 years.
“It’s heartbreaking to note that only 22 % of the confirmed cases received their routine childhood immunization vaccinations,” said Ms Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
“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 unreached has never been more critical.”
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), providing technical support to plan and operationalize the response,
UNICEF’s commitment extends to several key interventions, including: Planning, implementing, and funding risk communication and community engagement activities , Transporting vaccines and related equipment to the affected states and strengthening routine immunization.
Other interventions includes: Training health workers and volunteers for service delivery, risk communication, and community engagement, Supervising outbreak response activities, Procuring and supplying face masks, hand sanitizers, and antibiotics to treat diphtheria, Supplying Laboratory consumables and biosafety cabinets for testing of suspected cases at the NCDC.
Ms Munduate emphasized 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,” she said. “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.”
In light of these sobering statistics, UNICEF Nigeria urges all parents and guardians to ensure their children receive routine immunizations to protect them from preventable diseases like diphtheria.
The agency however assured it will continue to intensify efforts to address the ongoing outbreak and work alongside the government to achieve a healthier, safer future for every Nigerian child.