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Outbreak of ‘long-eliminated’ infectious disease haunts Sindh

So far 10 children have lost their lives due to diphtheria in Sindh while 39 cases have been confirmed in the province, says official

By M. Waqar Bhatti
September 27, 2022

KARACHI: Diphtheria, a vaccine-preventable disease which has vanished from most parts of the world, has so far killed at least 10 children in Sindh, mostly in last two months, health officials confirmed on Monday while health experts feared that number of deaths due to highly lethal infection could be much higher than the official figures.

“So far 10 children have lost their lives due to diphtheria in Sindh while 39 cases have been confirmed in the province”, Dr. Irshad Memon, Project Director of the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) told The News when asked about number of diphtheria cases and mortalities due to the bacterial infection in the province.

According to infectious diseases experts, diphtheria is a serious infection caused by strains of bacteria called ‘Corynebacterium diphtheriae’ that make toxin. It can lead to difficulty breathing, heart rhythm problems, and even death.Senior Pediatric infectious diseases expert Dr. Asad Ali claimed that a diphtheria outbreak was being reported from Karachi and other parts of Sindh and as per official figures, so far it had claimed the lives of 10 children but claimed that number of deaths due to the vaccine-preventable disease could be five times higher than the official figures.

“We need outbreak investigation, higher rates of routine childhood immunization and additional booster Diphtheria-Pertussis-Tetanus (DPT) vaccine in our EPI programme”, Dr. Asad Ali, who is also the Associate Dean Research at Aga Khan University, told The News.

Dr. Asad Ali maintained that many countries have eliminated diphtheria through vaccination as in those countries, an additional booster of DPT vaccine is given to children in the later stage of their childhood but in Pakistan, no booster is given due to which it is affecting the children with weak immunity.

Another senior pediatrician Prof. Jamal Raza said “our immunization coverage is not very good. Officially, it is said that vaccination rate is around 70 percent but it is much less than the official figures”, Dr. Jamal Raza, who is the executive Director of the Sindh Institute of Child Health told The News. Interviews with several health officials and infectious diseases experts in Karachi and Hyderabad revealed that diphtheria cases were being reported now as a matter of routine but due to lack of experience and knowledge of general practitioners, they refer these cases very late to specialized hospitals when the disease progressed to incurable stage. “We are seeing the diphtheria cases on and off at our facility and at the moment, we have a girl in serious condition at our intensive care unit. If a patient is referred late, even given anti-toxin proves ineffective and chances of survival becomes difficult”, Dr. Abdul Wahid Rajput, Medical Superintendent of Sindh Infectious Diseases Hospital said.