NIGERIA—Nigeria has been dealing with a large increase in measles infections, with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospitals in Maiduguri, Northeast Nigeria, admitting 3,965 patients between October and December 2023.

This figure is more than three times higher than the number admitted over the same period in 2022, despite increased vaccination campaigns.

This measles outbreak coincides with an extraordinary diphtheria outbreak in Northern Nigeria and an extended malaria season, which has resulted in 24,500 suspected cases and more than 600 deaths since its proclamation in January 2023.

These instances are strong indicators of the country’s significant failures in routine immunization efforts, as well as a chronic absence of long-term measures to increase vaccine coverage.

In 2023, MSF personnel treated 9,618 measles cases at their healthcare facilities, including Gwange Paediatric Hospital and Nilefa Kiji Nutrition Hospital, as well as MSF-supported primary healthcare sites in Maiduguri.

Dr. Jombo Tochukwu-Okoli, MSF Medical Activity Manager at Gwange Paediatric Hospital, illustrates the alarming increase in cases to ongoing insecurity, which hampers health experts’ access to distant villages surrounding Maiduguri, making vaccination programmes impracticable.

The severe security environment in Northern Nigeria, along with significant funding cuts by international donors to Nigeria and continuous neglect of public health infrastructure, raises serious concerns.

Furthermore, the stoppage of routine children’s vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic hampered vaccine coverage growth, disrupting health systems and impeding the introduction of routine immunization campaigns. Interruptions in the cold chain have rendered vaccinations ineffective.

Dr. Tochukwu-Okoli underlines the importance of a measles outbreak in an area where malnutrition is common due to the virus’s degenerative effect on the gastrointestinal lining.

Persistent diarrhoea makes it more difficult for newborns to retain and absorb nourishment in the post-measles phase, while also diminishing their supply of essential micronutrients, further reducing immunity.

In the Northeast of Nigeria, where access to nutritious food is limited, diseases like measles worsen malnutrition, producing a vicious cycle in which famine leads to further immune suppression. As a result, the morbidity and mortality linked with measles and other diseases rise.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious viral illnesses, invading immune cells and swiftly spreading throughout the body, primarily affecting the respiratory system.

 The virus’s tendency to cause a cough allows it to spread to others; one sick child can infect 9 to 12 healthy children.

While there is no known cure for measles, life-saving drugs can help patients remain stable and avoid complications.

However, the virus’s influence on the immune system can have serious implications even after the measles episode, leaving persons more susceptible to numerous illnesses, notably diarrheal disorders. 

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