The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to tackling the ongoing diphtheria outbreak.
The executive director of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib emphasised the urgency and gravity of the situation during a media briefing held in Abuja on Thursday.
Shuaib underscored the significant toll the outbreak has taken, with over 600 reported deaths, predominantly among children. He stressed that each new case represented more than just a statistic; it signified a distressed family and a nation grappling with preventable suffering.
Recognising the compassion and leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as well as the swift action of the Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate, Shuaib expressed gratitude for the resources and clear directives provided to combat the outbreak effectively.
To gain firsthand insights and evaluate response efforts, a task team conducted an extensive tour of five heavily affected states: Borno, Yobe, Jigawa, Kano and Kaduna. Shuaib explained that their mission encompassed three primary objectives: evaluating ongoing initiatives, engaging with healthcare professionals on the frontlines, and interacting directly with governors and traditional, religious and opinion leaders.
He commended the collaborative efforts of federal, state, and local health authorities, which played a pivotal role in addressing observed gaps in real time. Governors demonstrated unwavering commitment by waiving fees for treatment, providing meals for patients and caregivers, and mobilising resources to combat the outbreak.
Shuaib highlighted the crucial role of vaccination campaigns in the response. Phase 2 Round 1, which commenced on September 23, 2023, targeted seven states and 56 local government areas profoundly affected by the outbreak. The results were remarkable, with 4,859,181 children receiving the Pentavalent vaccine and 3,166,419 children receiving the Td vaccine.
Kano, the epicentre of the outbreak, exemplified its commitment to immunisation by vaccinating over a million children with the Td and Pentavalent vaccines. Other affected states, including Katsina, Kaduna, Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa and Yobe, also made significant strides in protecting the health and well-being of their children through dedicated vaccination campaigns.
Shuaib emphasised that the ongoing outbreak response was integrated with routine immunisation services delivered to all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, aimed at preventing other vaccine-preventable diseases from reaching epidemic proportions.
While vaccination was of paramount importance, the NPHCDA boss also stressed the significance of raising awareness about immunisation and the dire consequences of neglecting it. He highlighted the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical measures, such as handwashing, sanitiser use, facemasks and good respiratory hygiene, in reducing disease transmission.
The WHO team leader for diphtheria outbreak response in Nigeria, Dr. Blaise Bathondoli detailed WHO’s active support for national and state health authorities, as well as partner organisations, in the ongoing battle against the outbreak. The WHO’s efforts encompass various aspects of the response, primarily aimed at controlling the disease’s spread and providing essential medical supplies.
Reactive vaccination campaigns have played a crucial role in the response, with WHO supporting campaigns in 40 local government areas (LGAs) across seven states: Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe, Jigawa and Borno. The target population for the second round of reactive vaccinations exceeds 5.3 million children. To ensure campaign success, WHO has provided support for training vaccination teams and developing micro-plans for implementation in the targeted LGAs.
The WHO has also facilitated the procurement and distribution of medical supplies, including life-saving diphtheria antitoxin (DAT), antibiotics like erythromycin for treating infected individuals, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to safeguard healthcare workers. Recognising the importance of timely supply delivery, WHO established supply routes and logistics chains to ensure that the necessary medical supplies reached the most affected areas promptly.
Furthermore, WHO is overseeing the procurement of critical laboratory supplies, as diagnosis plays a vital role in disease control. WHO’s field personnel are actively involved in supporting Nigeria’s health authorities across the country, participating in active case searches, contact tracing, and data collection, all essential for effective outbreak management.
Collaboration is a central component of the response efforts, with WHO working closely with multiple stakeholders, including state-level health authorities, international and local organisations, as well as partners such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). This collaborative effort encompasses data sharing, resource pooling, and strategic planning to prevent duplication of efforts and ensure the most effective use of resources.
The partnership with MSF has been particularly critical in managing the procurement of DAT and contributing to its equitable distribution across the affected areas. This collective response, driven by numerous organisations, reflects the determination and commitment to effectively address the diphtheria outbreak in Nigeria, underscoring the significance of collective responsibility in confronting public health challenges.