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Diphtheria: UNICEF advocates widespread vaccination

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Amid the most severe diphtheria outbreak in recent global history, the United Nations Children’s Fund Nigeria (UNICEF) is sounding the alarm about the urgent need for widespread vaccination.

The outbreak has so far resulted in 11,587 suspected cases, 7,202 cases across 105 local government areas in 17 states and the Federal Capital Territory, mostly among children.

A total of 453 deaths have occurred in confirmed cases, giving a case fatality rate of 6.3 per cent.

Most cases are children aged between four to 15 years who have not received even a single dose of the vital vaccine, laying bare the urgency of the vaccination situation in Nigeria.

In a statement on Wednesday, UNICEF said it is providing urgent support to the Nigerian government in its efforts to combat the outbreak.

“A crucial part of this support includes the procurement of vaccines to support the government’s response. So far, on behalf of the government, UNICEF has deployed 9.3 million doses of diphtheria vaccines to affected states including Kano, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Katsina, Kaduna, and Jigawa.

“Of these, four million doses have been dispatched to Kano, the epicentre of the outbreak. Another four million doses of vaccines are being procured and will be handed over to the government in the coming weeks”, the statement read in part.

It added that to respond effectively to the outbreak, UNICEF Nigeria said it needs to raise an additional $ 3.3m by the end of the year.

UNICEF representative, Dr. Rownak Khan noted that “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 haven’t received even a single dose of 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.

UNICEF Nigeria calls on partners, stakeholders, and the international community to rally together to ensure that every child in Nigeria is reached with life-saving vaccines.

The children’s agency stressed the importance of strengthening routine immunisation, community engagement, and health systems to avoid similar outbreaks in the future.

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