By Murtala Muhammad

United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria says it is intensifying efforts to counter the growing outbreak of diphtheria that claimed 122 lives, mostly children across the country.

A statement by UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria, Ms Cristian Munduate says as of July 2023, 3,850 suspected cases of diphtheria were reported, out of which 1,387 were confirmed.

The disease according to the statement affected children in 27 states of the federation and claimed 122 lives, with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 8.7 percent, the situation it describes as tragic.

It says the outbreak has mainly affected six states of Kano, Katsina, Lagos, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, which account for 98.0 percent of the suspected cases.

According to the statement, 71.5 percent of the confirmed cases have occurred among children aged two to 14 years.

UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Ms Cristian Munduate, said “It’s heartbreaking to note that only 22 percent of the confirmed cases received their routine childhood immunization vaccinations.”

She noted “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, the statement says 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.

It also comprises transporting vaccines and other related equipment to the affected states, strengthening routine immunization, training of health workers and volunteers for service delivery, risk communication and community engagement.

Other interventions includes supervising outbreak response activities, procuring and supplying face masks, hand sanitizers, and antibiotics to treat diphtheria as well as 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, 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.

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 statement adds that UN 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.

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