Diphtheria: Experts raise concerns over lack of unified reporting system

By Abujah Racheal


Experts on Tuesday raised concerns over the lack of a unified system for  reporting diphtheria data in Nigeria.

The experts made this known while speaking to the News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) in Abuja.

Dr Gabriel Adakole, a Public Health experts said the absence of a centralised database, makes it difficult to accurately track and monitor the spread of the disease.

Adakole also said that this, hinfers effective response and prevention efforts in the country.

“The Nigeria Centre for Disease and Prevention Control(NCDC), performs all functions related to data management (acquisition, archiving, inventorying, and quality assessments), data synthesis (climate description, monitoring, modelling, and prediction), and data and information dissemination and publication.

“The World Health Organisation(WHO), is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

“The Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), is to develop and implement policies that strengthen the national health system for effective, efficient, accessible and affordable delivery of health services in partnership with other stakeholders,” he explained.

The expert said:”these agencies have reported different data from the ongoing diphtheria outbreak in the country”.

A virologist and Chairman of the Board of Biovaccines Nigeria Limited (BVNL), Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said that data was vital in public health emergencies beacuse it enables early detection, informed decision-making, resource allocation, planning, monitoring, and effective communication.

Tomori said that having access to accurate and timely data enhances the ability to respond to emergencies, save lives, and protect communities.

“Many more outbreaks will come, because when the diphtheria outbreak was first reported in May 2022, over a year ago, we, as usual, did practically nothing about it, he said.

He said that improving the collection and reporting of diphtheria data was crucial for effectively combating the disease in the country.

“By addressing this issue, authorities can enhance their ability to respond to outbreaks, allocate resources efficiently, and protect the population from the spread of diphtheria,” he said.

Also, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the WHO Country Representative in Nigeria confirmed that from May 2022 to July 2023, an estimated 2,455 suspected cases have been reported in 26 states.

Mulombo said that as of July 27, 836 of these cases have been confirmed in 33 LGAs across 8 states: Cross River, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Lagos, Osun, Yobe, and FCT.

He said that tragically, 83 deaths have been reported from these confirmed cases, making vaccination against this deadly disease critically important, especially for children.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that as of July, 3,850 suspected cases of diphtheria have been reported in the country, out of which 1,387 were confirmed positive in 27 states.

The UN agency added that the disease has claimed 122 lives, with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 8.7 per cent.

“The outbreak has affected mainly Kano, Yobe, Katsina, Lagos, FCT, Sokoto, and Zamfara, which account for 98.0 per cent of the suspected cases,” the statement reads.

The NCDC said that cumulatively in the country from May 2022 – July 2023, a total of 4,160 suspected cases have been reported from 27 states across 139 LGAs in the country.

It said out of the 4,160 suspected cases reported, 1,534 (36.9%) were confirmed (87 lab-confirmed; 158 epidemiological linked; 1,289 clinically compatible), 1,700 (40.9%) were discarded, 639 (15.4%) were pending classification and 287 (6.9%) were unknown.

The agency said that Kano (3,233), Yobe (477), Katsina (132), Kaduna (101), Bauchi (54), the FCT (41) and Lagos (30) account for 97.8 per cent of suspected cases.

Giving the description of Diphtheria cases by states in the country, NCDC said out of the epidemiological- week 19, the country confirmed cases were distributed across 56 LGAs in 2022 – epidemiological-week nine in 2023 were eleven (11) states.

The agency said that the majority of 1,018 (66.4 per cent) of the confirmed cases occurred in children aged 1 – 14 years.

“A total of 137 deaths were recorded among all confirmed cases (CFR: 8.9 per cent.

“Out of the 1,534 confirmed cases reported, 1,257 (81.9 per cent) were not fully vaccinated against Diphtheria,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of health, Mr Olufunsho Adebiyi said that 171 local government areas in 14 states in the country were at high risk of further spread of the diphtheria outbreak.

Adebiyi said that the 171 LGAs included all the 144 local government areas in Kano, Katsina, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Yobe, Kaduna and Bauchi states.

Other states are Gombe, Jigawa, Borno, Nasarawa, Plateau and Zamfara, which have 20 contagious local government areas, as well as seven local government areas in Lagos and Osun states.

”Available real-time surveillance data showed active diphtheria outbreaks in 25 LGAs in Bauchi, Katsina, Yobe and Kaduna states,” he said.

NAN reports that the NCDC said that the country reported diphtheria in December 2022, meanwhile, WHO said that the country has reported a diphtheria outbreak since May 2022.

Diphtheria is caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae, is a vaccine-preventable disease covered by one of the vaccines provided routinely through Nigeria’s childhood immunisation schedule. (NAN)