Diphtheria in NigeriaOver 2,000 Nigerian children die every day from curable diseases. In 2023, the African country confirmed over 1,000 cases of one such disease, diphtheria. Amid an outbreak brought on by low vaccination rates and subpar health care access, emergency initiatives provide hope for those who have been diagnosed with this potentially fatal disease. Delve into everything you need to know about diphtheria in Nigeria below. 

Diphtheria in Nigeria: Unraveling the Facts 

Diphtheria is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease passed between hosts via direct contact or respiratory droplets. Its symptoms include a sore throat, difficulty breathing, fever or chills, swollen glands and the presence of a thick, gray membrane on the throat and tonsils.  

Diphtheria is fatal in 5-10% of cases; however, without access to the appropriate antitoxins, it can have a fatality rate of up to 40%. As of August 2023, Nigeria’s outbreak has a fatality rate just below 9%. While this indicates that the outbreak has been more or less controlled, the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern that Nigeria does not possess enough antitoxin to continue battling the disease. 

Those Most Vulnerable: Unimmunized Children

Unimmunized children are at particularly high risk of contracting diphtheria. Indeed, over 70% of Nigeria’s confirmed cases in 2023 affect children between the ages of 2 and 14. Of those afflicted, more than three-quarters had not received diphtheria immunization. This reflects a broader issue of vaccine access, disproportionately affecting low-income families who struggle to afford the time or transportation costs associated with vaccinating their children. As a result, only a third of Nigerian children are fully vaccinated, making those left behind vulnerable to diseases like diphtheria.  

Striving for Change 

In response to the increase of diphtheria in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Nigerian Center for Disease Control are procuring and supplying necessary supplies like masks, hand sanitizer and antibiotics to health care facilities. Additionally, they are prioritizing training health workers and volunteers in preventing the spread of and treating patients diagnosed with the disease. This includes ensuring that there is enough diphtheria antitoxin available to prevent the fatality rate from rising any higher. 

In an effort to curb the long-term effects of diphtheria in Nigeria, these organizations are also transporting vaccines to communities all around the country, hoping to boost the population’s immunity in the short and long term. 

The state of diphtheria in Nigeria reveals the intricate relationship between health and poverty. Because the 2023 outbreak has terrifying consequences for low-income families who cannot access vaccination or treatment for their children, it presents an opportunity to acknowledge and repair the country’s immunization landscape and health system. With attention to the needs of its most vulnerable, it is possible for Nigeria to relegate the grip diphtheria has on its children to its history and create a more resilient future for all.

– Faye Crawford
Photo: Pexels