In Kano, northern Nigeria, a severe diphtheria outbreak is causing concern, with hundreds of lives lost and thousands infected this year.
The situation is most critical in Kano, where a significant number of cases and fatalities have been reported.
The Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital in Kano, operated by the medical charity MSF, is at the center of the fight against this epidemic.
Dr. Hashim Juma Omar, overseeing the diphtheria intervention, revealed that as of the latest update, Kano alone had seen over 10,700 diphtheria cases with more than 500 lives lost.
This alarming situation has prompted strict control measures at the clinic to prevent further spread of the disease.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control declared a diphtheria outbreak in January after cases began emerging in May the previous year.
This outbreak has already surpassed the worst one recorded in 1989, with 5,039 cases.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial disease that affects the respiratory tract and skin.
Without treatment, it can be fatal for 50% of those infected, and even with treatment, it remains fatal in 5% of cases.
Children under the age of five, along with women, are the most vulnerable groups and are the hardest hit in Kano state.
MSF has raised concerns about a shortage of vaccine funding, which is a significant hurdle in ending the outbreak.
They are urging the international community to provide support.
While MSF has supplied 7,000 diphtheria vaccines to Kano, UNICEF donated 1.2 million doses last month.
However, these efforts are still insufficient.
There is a global shortage of diphtheria vaccines, primarily due to limited production capacity, as it takes 15 days to produce a vial of the vaccine, and global demand is high.
Kano needs a total of 31 million doses of the vaccine for at-risk groups, but this target is challenging to meet due to supply constraints and financial limitations.
Although the outbreak is now “under control,” there is concern that the upcoming harmattan season could bring new challenges as respiratory tract infections tend to increase.
Routine immunization rates in Nigeria dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, as resources were redirected to combat the virus.
Kano’s health commissioner, Abubakar Labaran Yusuf, attributed 80% of diphtheria infections in Nigeria to the state’s lack of routine immunization for 19 months, primarily due to the previous government’s failure.
Vaccine hesitancy is a growing issue, exacerbated by recent claims that diphtheria vaccines led to kidney complications in children.
Such fears about vaccine safety have a historical precedent in the region, with past controversies surrounding vaccines.
To address these concerns, Kano health officials plan to intensify public awareness campaigns and educate the population about the importance of vaccinations.