Chad: MSF and Ministry of Public Health respond to diphtheria epidemic

14 Feb 2024

A diphtheria epidemic is currently raging in the Batha region of central Chad. Since June 2023, more than 825 cases and 36 deaths have been reported, mainly in the districts of Ati, Alifa, Yao and N'Djaména Boulala. 

 Diphteria vaccination campaign in Batha Province, Chad

MSF team member in vaccination site set-up by MSF teams in Yao district, Batha province, Chad. © MSF/Johnny Vianney Bissakonou

In response to this worrying situation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) joined forces with the Ministry of Public Health and Prevention in December 2023 to provide free healthcare for people with diphtheria as well as high-quality epidemiological surveillance in Batha.

Diphtheria is a highly contagious infectious disease, and without prompt treatment, the risk of death is very high. Vaccination remains the best way of protecting against diphtheria, and this protection is normally provided by routine vaccination programs. The problem is that, to date, many of our children are still not getting their routine vaccination and are vulnerable to this disease.

Dr. Elie Fokzia
Regional health delegate for Batha

To halt the spread of the epidemic and protect people and communities who are the most vulnerable, on 29 January 2024, MSF launched a mass vaccination campaign in collaboration with the Batha health authorities. The aim is to vaccinate around 25,000 people between six months and forty years old in the areas most at risk, notably Yao and Souar health areas. A total of 24,489 people have been vaccinated against diphtheria out of the 24,553 expected, giving vaccination coverage of more than 99 per cent.

In addition to the vaccination, MSF is organising public awareness activities among communities to improve their knowledge of diphtheria, including prevention measures.

Chad is not the only country in the Sahel affected by the return of diphtheria. Chad's neighbors Niger and Nigeria have also been experiencing epidemic outbreaks since 2022." Regional coordination is essential to provide a strong response to these outbreaks", says Dr. Assoumana Halarou, MSF's medical coordinator in Chad. 

Portrait of ​Bourma Djarma, a vaccinator for the Ministry of Health

Portrait of ​Bourma Djarma, a vaccinator for the Ministry of Health on a vaccination site set up by MSF teams in Batha province, Chad. © MSF/Johnny Vianney Bissakonou

MSF is therefore calling for a regional and international response to curb the diphtheria epidemic in this vulnerable region, by stepping up routine vaccination and improving access to healthcare for communities at risk, particularly in countries where the disease is still active, such as Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

"This disease, which had almost disappeared, is now making a strong comeback in Sahelian countries”, says Jean Bourgès, MSF Head of Mission in Chad, “due to the lack of effective routine vaccination programs and the loss of priority given to these epidemics in the wake of major disasters elsewhere in the world. As a result, in many villages far from urban centers, there are so-called 'zero-dose' children, who have never received any routine vaccinations.

More funding and targeted interventions are needed to contain the spread of diphtheria.

By stepping up the response in particular through mass vaccination campaigns aimed at reaching isolated communities, and a large-scale collective effort, we will be able to halt the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases with epidemiological potential, such as diphtheria and measles in Sahelian countries.

Jean Bourgès
MSF Head of Mission in Chad

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) started to work for the first time in Chad in 1977. As a neutral and impartial humanitarian organization dedicated to saving lives and alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable, MSF provides medical humanitarian assistance to those in need, including refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees, and host communities. Currently, MSF is engaged in projects in N'Djamena, Moissala, Massakory, Adré, Ourang, and Métché. Additionally, the organization conducts emergency interventions for refugees in the East, primarily in Adré, and within the camps of Métché, Ourang, Daguéssa, and Goz-Aschiyé. 

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