In the heart of Nigeria, a silent but deadly health crisis has taken hold. Diphtheria, a highly contagious bacterial disease, is spreading rapidly through the northern states of Borno, Bauchi, and Kano.
The alarm bells have been rung by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international health organisation, which reports thousands infected and hundreds dead.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, this is a grave situation demanding immediate attention and coordinated efforts on a national if not global scale.
Diphtheria is a disease we thought was largely consigned to history books, thanks to vaccination programs worldwide. However, this recent outbreak is a painful reminder of the fragility of health systems and the need for continued vigilance.
The numbers are staggering. MSF’s teams claim to have treated over 6,700 suspected and confirmed cases in Kano, 110 in Borno, and 21 in Bauchi. Thousands more suspected cases are under surveillance across Nigeria.
We cannot ignore the fact that around 4,000 suspected cases have been recorded nationwide. These statistics paint a grim picture of a public health crisis spiraling out of control.
The severity of the situation is compounded by multiple factors. Low national vaccination coverage has left large segments of the population vulnerable to this preventable disease. The worldwide shortage of antitoxin, a life-saving treatment for diphtheria, is a ticking time bomb. Without this crucial resource, the outbreak could escalate further, resulting in more suffering and death.
An MSF emergency project medical doctor, Dr. Hashim Juma Omar, paints a dire picture of the situation in Kano State. Over 700 people with suspected diphtheria are seeking medical attention, and more than 280 patients are admitted weekly in Kano State’s two diphtheria treatment centers.
Also , the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had stated that Kano State is responsible for 80 per cent of diphtheria outbreak in Nigeria.
Among the most vulnerable are women and children under the age of five, who are bearing the brunt of this crisis.
First and foremost, the international community must rally to support Nigeria in its efforts to combat this outbreak. The shortage of antitoxin must be addressed urgently, with countries and organisations contributing to the global supply.
In our view, this is not just a matter of charity; it’s a matter of global health security. Diseases do not respect borders, and an outbreak in one part of the world can quickly become a global threat.
Additionally, Nigeria must ramp up its vaccination efforts. Ensuring that every child is immunised against diphtheria is the cornerstone of prevention. Public health campaigns should educate communities on the importance of vaccination and dispel any misinformation that may be hindering immunization efforts.
Furthermore, contact tracing and preventive measures are essential. Identifying and isolating cases swiftly can help contain the outbreak. Adequate medical supplies, trained healthcare workers, and facilities are essential in this regard.
In times of crisis, solidarity is paramount. We call upon governments, international organisations and concerned citizens to join hands and work towards eradicating this diphtheria outbreak. Lives hang in the balance, and our response will determine the fate of thousands in Nigeria and elsewhere
This is a test of our commitment to global health equity and the value we place on every human life. Let us not allow diphtheria to become a harbinger of more suffering; instead, let it be a rallying cry for swift and decisive action. The people of Nigeria, especially the women and children in Borno, Bauchi, and Kano States, are in desperate need of help. It’s time for the world to respond to that desperate need.
Beyond the immediate response, this outbreak should serve as a wake-up call for Nigeria and other nations. It highlights the urgent need to strengthen healthcare systems, improve vaccination coverage, and invest in medical infrastructure. This investment is not just about responding to crises but also about building resilience against future health threats.
Misinformation and vaccine hesitancy have been significant obstacles in the fight against diphtheria. Comprehensive public awareness campaigns are essential. People need access to accurate information to make informed decisions about their health and the health of their children. Communities should be engaged, and local leaders should play a pivotal role in dispelling myths and promoting vaccination.
In view of the foregoing ,the diphtheria outbreak in Nigeria is a grim reminder that infectious diseases can resurge when we let our guard down. The situation is dire, and time is of the essence. The global community must respond to this crisis with urgency and compassion. Lives are at stake, and the world is watching.
Let us stand together in solidarity and ensure that diphtheria is defeated in Nigeria, and that this tragedy serves as a catalyst for a stronger, more resilient global healthcare system.