In a resolute response to the alarming surge of diphtheria wreaking havoc in 27 Nigerian states, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has announced a robust escalation of efforts aimed at quelling the crisis.
In an official statement delivered on Thursday from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Safiya Akau, the Communications Officer of UNICEF Nigeria, detailed the organization’s unwavering commitment to confront the outbreak head-on. Working in unison with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the affected states, and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, UNICEF has embarked on a multifaceted collaboration designed to stem the tide of this insidious disease.
The collaborative initiative encompasses a comprehensive array of strategic actions, ranging from providing invaluable technical support to meticulously planning and implementing disease control measures. UNICEF’s resolute engagement also extends to a host of pivotal interventions, encompassing the meticulous orchestration of risk communication and community engagement initiatives. These endeavors serve as the cornerstone of the campaign to safeguard vulnerable populations.
The far-reaching extent of UNICEF’s involvement is underscored by its active role in facilitating the transportation of vital vaccines and essential equipment to the afflicted regions. Moreover, the organization is bolstering routine immunization efforts, a critical bulwark against further escalation. In tandem, UNICEF is diligently training healthcare workers and volunteers, imbuing them with the skills required for effective service delivery, risk communication, and comprehensive community engagement. This proactive stance extends to supervising outbreak response activities, thus ensuring an integrated and effective approach.
A salient highlight of UNICEF’s campaign against diphtheria lies in its commitment to procure and furnish indispensable resources, including face masks, hand sanitizers, and antibiotics essential for the treatment of diphtheria. Concurrently, the organization is reinforcing the diagnostic capacity of laboratories, providing vital consumables and biosafety cabinets for rigorous testing and evaluation of suspected cases at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
According to the official communiqué, a disconcerting total of 3,850 suspected diphtheria cases have been reported as of July, with 1,387 of these cases conclusively confirmed. Tragically, the disease’s virulence has claimed the lives of 122 individuals, yielding a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 8.7 percent.
The geographical spread of the outbreak has been particularly pronounced in key states, namely Kano, Yobe, Katsina, Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Sokoto, and Zamfara. These regions account for a staggering 98 percent of the suspected cases. Unsettlingly, the majority of confirmed cases, a substantial 71.5 percent, afflict children aged two to 14 years.
UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria, Ms. Cristian Munduate, expressed profound dismay at the revelation that merely 22 percent of confirmed cases had received their prescribed routine childhood immunizations. Notably, the children who tragically succumbed to the disease had not received even a single dose of the vaccine.
The urgency to reach remote and underserved areas is now more paramount than ever before. Ms. Munduate underscored the imperative to address children who have been inadvertently excluded from routine immunizations due to the disruptive influence of COVID-19 lockdown measures. The profound message was unequivocal: “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.”
In a poignant appeal, UNICEF implores parents and guardians to prioritize the immunization of their children, an integral safeguard against preventable maladies like diphtheria. The organization’s unwavering dedication is unwavering, as it pledges to escalate its endeavors and join forces with governmental bodies to forge a healthier, safer future for every Nigerian child.