Nigeria facing second wave of diphtheria outbreak – WHO

NIGERIA is facing a second wave of diphtheria outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

This follows the first outbreak recorded between December 2022 and May 2023.

Caused by a toxin produced by corynebacterium diphtheria, diphtheria is a vaccine-preventable disease covered by one of the vaccines provided routinely through a childhood immunisation schedule. 

The bacterial infection usually affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) attributed the first outbreak and the high fatality rate to delays in diagnosis and the absence of diphtheria antitoxin during the early stage of the outbreak.

In a statement released on Thursday, September 15, WHO reported a surge in Nigeria’s affected population, alongside an increase in confirmed cases and associated fatalities.

According to the statement, since the initial outbreak report in 2022, 4,717 confirmed cases of diphtheria have been identified out of the 8,353 suspected cases.

“Nigeria is currently facing a second wave of a diphtheria outbreak after a first wave of the outbreak was recorded between epidemiological week 52, 2022 and week 20, 2023,” the report reads.

“Since the last disease outbreak news on diphtheria in Nigeria was published on 27 April 2023, the country has reported suspected cases of diphtheria weekly to WHO.

WHO also noted that Nigeria recorded an unusual increase in confirmed diphtheria cases between 30 June and 31 August 2023.

“From 30 June to 31 August 2023, 5,898 suspected cases were reported from 59 LGAs in 11 states nationwide.

The WHO said 99.4 per cent of the suspected cases were reported from Kano (1,816), Katsina (234), Yobe (158), Bauchi (79), Kaduna (45) and Borno (33).

“The low national coverage (57%) of the pentavalent vaccine (Penta 3) administered in routine immunization, and the suboptimal vaccination coverage in the pediatric population—with 43 per cent of the target population unvaccinated—underscores the risk of further spread and the accumulation of a critical mass of susceptible population in the country with sub-optimal herd or population immunity.

“This emphasizes the urgent need to strengthen diphtheria vaccination coverage nationwide, especially in the most affected states, such as Kano,” the statement added.

On July 6, the NCDC said it had recorded 798 diphtheria cases across eight states between December 2022 and June 30, 2023.

According to the statement released by the Centre’s Director General Ifedayo Adetifa on Thursday, June 6, 782 cases were recorded in Kano State. Kaduna, which has now reported 68 suspected cases, was among the states listed by the NCDC to have cases of diphtheria.

Other states with diphtheria cases are Lagos, Yobe, Katsina, Cross River, Osun state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Children aged two to 14 are at greater risk of the disease, as 71.7 per cent of the 798 cases recorded in the eight states occurred among them.

According to the NCDC, 80 deaths were recorded from all the confirmed cases.

Despite the availability of a safe and cost-effective vaccine in the country, the majority, 654 (82 per cent) of 798 confirmed diphtheria cases were unvaccinated, said the NCDC.

Meanwhile, The ICIR had on May 11, reported how advocacy through community leaders and improvement in epidemic preparedness were mitigating the spread of the disease in some Kano communities.

The report detailed how the disease spread across five local government areas in the state, namely, Ndala, Gwale, Ungogo, Nasarawa and Tarauni, resulting in the loss of at least 61 lives while hundreds of residents were admitted to hospitals. 

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Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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