AMIDST a surge in cases of diphtheria in Nigeria, experts have called for a closer look at Nigeria’s vaccination programme to rule out vaccination failure from poor vaccines, health system failures and vaccination hesitancy against DPT, a class of combination vaccines against three infectious diseases in humans: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus in Nigeria.
Dr Hannah Dada-Adegbola, a consultant medical microbiologist at the University College Hospital, Ibadan stated diphtheria is not a new disease and for a long time, doctors had stopped worrying about it because there are effective treatments and vaccines to prevent the disease.
She stated, “it is a largely forgotten disease because of vaccination. It was a killer disease back then before immunisation for it became a routine.
“We need to find out if these cases are due to its new strains that are not covered by the vaccine, whether people affected are those that were vaccinated and completed the expected doses, if the immunity from the vaccine wanes or the vaccines were not potent because of a bridge in the cold chain.”
Dr Dada-Adegbola stated that in preventing its continuous spread, there was a need for increased awareness of the disease in the general population and that people with cough or sore throat seek prompt treatment at the hospital.
According to her, “people should take every case of cough and sore throat more seriously as a way of making sure that it does not result in death. By the time it results in breathlessness, such a person can die.”
Professor Aderemi Kehinde, head department of medical microbiology and parasitology, College of Medicine also linked the upsurge in cases of diphtheria to climate change and the harmattan, which support the easy spread of airborne diseases, including diphtheria.
According to him, “the cases are a result of poor immunisation coverage, especially among children and also in the climate change. Particularly during this period, we tend to have a resurgence of airborne diseases like the flu.
“Individuals need to keep safe by avoiding crowded areas, keeping social distance and should always be in well-ventilated environments. We must create awareness and ensure that all children are fully vaccinated. Also, it will be important to have booster doses to increase herd immunity in the community.”
Dr Oladoyin Odubanjo, a public health physician and Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Academy of Science, in his opinion, said that it will be wrong to assume that the spike in cases of diphtheria is linked to insecurity as cases were also reported in Lagos, Osun and Ogun states.
According to him, “what it is telling us is that our vaccination is inadequate, probably the quality of vaccines given was poor or there was a health system failure. Abroad, a lot of people are beginning to refuse vaccination for their children and as such the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles and diphtheria even though their health system is efficient unlike ours.”
Meanwhile, the Director of Public health, Oyo state health Ministry, Dr Bunmi Ayinde said Oyo state is yet to record any case of diphtheria but awareness creation and sensitisation campaigns on the disease have commenced as well as the state’s surveillance system on alert to be able to respond promptly to the disease if required.