The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has taken decisive action in response to the alarming diphtheria outbreak in Nigeria, advocating for widespread vaccination to halt the spread of the disease. Most concerning is the fact that the majority of cases involve children aged between four and 15 who have not received even a single dose of the vaccine. The outbreak has already claimed over 11,500 suspected cases, with 7,000 confirmed cases and a devastating 453 fatalities, primarily among children.
The UNICEF representative, Dr Rownak Khan, expressed deep concern over the outbreak, stating, “The devastating impact of this diphtheria outbreak is a grim reminder of the importance of vaccination. Nigeria is home to a staggering 2.2 million children who have not received even a single dose of the vaccine – the second largest such cohort in the world. We must collectively take urgent actions to drastically reduce this number. Every child deserves protection from preventable diseases. This is not negotiable.”
To address the crisis, UNICEF, in partnership with the Nigerian government, has swiftly deployed 9.3 million doses of diphtheria vaccines to affected states. These states include Kano, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, and others. Notably, four million doses have been dispatched to Kano, which serves as the epicentre of the outbreak, underscoring the severity of the situation. An additional four million doses are currently being procured and are set to be delivered to the government in the coming weeks.
UNICEF is calling upon its partners, stakeholders, and the international community to come together in a concerted effort to ensure that every child in Nigeria receives life-saving vaccines. Furthermore, the organisation emphasised the importance of strengthening routine immunisation, community engagement, and health systems to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.
To effectively respond to the ongoing outbreak, UNICEF Nigeria requires an additional $3.3 million in funding by the end of the year. This funding is crucial to support the procurement and distribution of vaccines and other essential resources to combat the diphtheria epidemic.
Diphtheria, which is primarily caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae, releases a potent toxin that can lead to severe respiratory and systemic symptoms if left untreated. This diphtheria outbreak has prompted UNICEF to take swift and decisive action, prioritising the health and well-being of Nigeria’s children.