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MSF Raises Concern Over Nigeria’s ‘Unprecedented Diphtheria Outbreak’

The international medical aid organisation says vaccination will be carried out in three phases across 14 states in Nigeria to curb the spread of the disease, and emphasised the need for longer-term vaccination efforts in Nigeria. 

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international medical aid organisation, has raised an alarm over an “unprecedented diphtheria outbreak” in Nigeria. 

With 17,000 recorded cases and 600 fatalities in the country, a vaccination campaign has been scheduled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The campaign will be carried out across 14 states, including Katsina, Kano, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

“In Kano state, where almost 12,000 suspected cases have been reported, around 70% of the patients admitted in MSF facilities were not fully vaccinated or vaccinated at all, showing the alarmingly low vaccination coverage,” MSF said in a statement. 

“In the North-West, full vaccination coverage is of high concern, ranging from 6% in Sokoto to 10% in Zamfara and 18% in Katsina, against a national average of 36%. In the North-East the coverage is seemingly alarming, as only 15% of the patients treated for diphtheria in our MSF facility in Gwange Paediatric Hospital in Maiduguri were fully vaccinated.”


MSF calls for long-term plans of routine immunization across different states and local government areas of Nigeria, noting that it is the only lasting solution to curb outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria.

Also known as Doctors Without Borders, the international aid organisation asked donor countries and institutions to invest in vaccination to curb ongoing outbreaks, urging them to consider a long-term plan to increase the country’s vaccination coverage.

Earlier this year, the head of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Ifedayo Adetifa, directed health workers to “maintain a high index of suspicion” for cases of Diphtheria disease in Lagos and Kano. 

MSF says it is tackling the disease in Kano, Borno, and Bauchi, but with a global shortage of the life-saving diphtheria antitoxin, responding to the outbreak has been tough.

However, Medical teams across Nigeria have implemented a decentralized strategy and collaborated with authorities to support other hospitals and health facilities to raise awareness of diphtheria disease, according to MSF.

For instance, the medical teams added a 20-bed diphtheria treatment clinic in the pediatric hospital in the Gwange area of Borno and treated 448 patients. Also, in Bauchi state, a 20-bed capacity diphtheria treatment centre was set up at the Ganjuwa Hospital while 173 patients were treated.                                                                        


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Mahdi Garba

Mahdi Garba covers development, security, conflict, climate & disinformation at HumAngle. He heads the Humanitarian Desk at HumAngle. He tweets regularly @MahdiGarba.

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