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West Africa Takes Action Against Diphtheria Outbreaks by Vaccinating Unvaccinated Populations

Authorities in several West African countries are working to control significant diphtheria outbreaks. In Nigeria, a top health official stated that millions of people are being vaccinated to address broad gaps in immunity against the disease.

The current outbreak in Nigeria, which began in December 2022, has led to at least 573 deaths out of 11,640 diagnosed cases. However, officials believe the actual toll could be higher due to undetected cases in some states.

Niger has reported 37 deaths out of 865 cases, while Guinea has seen 58 deaths out of 497 cases since the start of its outbreak in June.

According to Ifedayo Adetifa, head of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, this is the largest diphtheria outbreak in the country’s known history. The highly contagious bacterial infection has been reported in 20 of Nigeria’s 36 states so far.

Doctors Without Borders, a French medical organization, attributes the high infection rate in the region to a historically wide vaccination gap.

In Nigeria, only 42% of children under 15 years old are fully protected from diphtheria, while Guinea has a 47% immunization rate. Both rates are significantly below the 80–85% rate recommended by the World Health Organization to maintain community protection.

The global shortage of the diphtheria vaccine has further exacerbated the situation, as demand has increased to respond to outbreaks, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Dr. Dagemlidet Tesfaye Worku, emergency medical program manager for Doctors Without Borders in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, emphasized the urgent need for a massive scale-up of vaccination to address the situation.

The Nigerian government is intensifying vaccination efforts for targeted populations and supporting states in enhancing their capacity to detect and manage cases, according to Adetifa. However, some states, including Kano, continue to struggle. Kano accounts for more than 75% of cases in Nigeria but has only two diphtheria treatment centers, posing a challenge for residents who have to travel long distances for treatment.

Overall, the situation in West Africa highlights the critical need for widespread vaccination to contain and prevent the spread of diphtheria and similar infectious diseases.

Focus Keyword: Diphtheria Outbreaks in West Africa

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