UNICEF Boosts Response Against Diphtheria Outbreak In Nigeria

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria has said that it is amplifying efforts to counter the growing outbreak of diphtheria that has affected children in 27 states.

UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Ms Cristian Munduate in a statement issued on Thursday, August 3, 2023 said, as of July 2023, 3,850 suspected cases were reported with 1,387 confirmed as diphtheria.

Munduate noted that the disease had tragically claimed 122 lives, with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 8.7%. 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.

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“It’s heartbreaking to note that only 22% of the confirmed cases received their routine childhood immunization 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 unreached has never been more critical”, She said.

The UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative further informed that, the Agency, in response to the outbreak, was 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 operationalise the response.

She stated that UNICEF’s commitment extended 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 immunisation.

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 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”, she said.

She therefore urged all parents and guardians to ensure their children receive routine immunisations to protect them from preventable diseases like diphtheria, adding that, the agency 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.

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