Diphtheria: Despite Efforts By FG, Significant Number Of Children Remain Unvaccinated – NPHCDA

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The executive director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib.
The executive director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib.

The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency of Nigeria (NPHCDA) has acknowledged that despite the efforts of the Federal Government to provide safe and cost-effective vaccines, a significant number of children in the country remain unvaccinated.

The executive director of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib made this statement at a joint news conference on diphtheria outbreak response held in Abuja.

Shuaib emphasised that some children were only partially vaccinated, which compromises the country’s goal of achieving population immunity. Suboptimal vaccination coverage has been the main factor contributing to the diphtheria outbreaks, particularly affecting those between ages 2 and 14.

To effectively respond to the outbreak, NPHCDA, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC), states and donor partners, is mobilising necessary resources. A comprehensive response plan has been activated, focusing on early case detection, containment and prevention of further transmission.

The agency is closely working with partners to ensure adequate supplies of Tetanus Td (tetanus and diphtheria) and pentavalent vaccines for children in various age groups. Intensified mass vaccinations are being conducted for identified at-risk populations in affected states. Awareness campaigns are also being launched to educate the public about the disease, its symptoms, and preventive measures.

The response to the diphtheria outbreak will be carried out in two phases. Phase 1 will cover 25 local government areas (LGAs) in four states and is scheduled to take place from August 7 to August 11, 2023. Phase 2 will encompass outbreak responses in 171 LGAs across six states and eight targeted LGAs in other states. The vaccination campaign will utilise both fixed and mobile teams to reach children from birth to 14 years.

The head of the communications division of NCDC, Dr. Yahya Disu highlighted the significance of data in guiding the agency’s decision-making during outbreaks. The diphtheria outbreak poses a serious threat to at-risk communities in Nigeria, and from May 2022 to July 2023, an estimated 2,455 suspected cases have been reported in 26 states. As of July 27, 2023, 836 of these cases have been confirmed in 33 LGAs across eight states, with 83 reported deaths.

Diphtheria is a preventable disease through vaccination, and the pentavalent vaccine is administered to children at 6 weeks, 10 weeks, and 14 weeks of age, with additional doses given during campaigns. The disease primarily affects the respiratory system and can lead to severe symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, neck swelling, and breathing difficulties. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated children in crowded and unsanitary areas are at higher risk of severe complications and death if infected.

The NPHCDA and health workers nationwide urge parents and caregivers to take their children to nearby health facilities for vaccination and adhere to proper hygiene practices to prevent the spread of diphtheria. Vaccination remains the most effective way to protect children and communities from this deadly disease, and the joint efforts of the government, healthcare workers, and the public are essential in combating the outbreak.

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