Singapore: Rise in whooping cough cases affecting infants
A nurse displays tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis whooping cough vaccine Reuters

WHO stated that diphtheria is spreading rapidly among Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh. More than 110 diphtheria cases have been reported, including six deaths, by health partners –Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

"These cases could be just the tip of the iceberg. This is an extremely vulnerable population with low vaccination coverage, living in conditions that could be a breeding ground for infectious diseases like cholera, measles, rubella, and diphtheria," said Navaratnassmy Paranietharan, WHO Representative to Bangladesh.

"This is why we have protected more than 700,000 people with the oral cholera vaccines, as well as more than 350,000 children with measles-rubella vaccine in a campaign that ended yesterday. Now we have to deal with diphtheria," said Navaratnasamy.

More than 624,000 people from Myanmar have assembled in densely populated temporary areas with little or no access to clean water, sanitation and health services. However, the numbers of diphtheria affected people are still increasing.

WHO with UNICEF and Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, have stepped in to prevent this highly infectious disease in Bangladesh by means of effective treatment and other fundamental preventive measures.

They unanimously supported patient diagnosis and treatment by supplying an adequate number of medicines and by organizing a vaccination programme. These vaccination campaigns are basically targeted to children up to 6 years with pentavalent (DPT-HepB-Hib) and pneumococcal vaccines. These vaccinations will help to protect children against diphtheria and other related diseases.

Initially, 1,000 vials of diphtheria antitoxins were obtained by WHO and shall soon arrive in Bangladesh. Combined with antibiotics, antioxidants could save the lives of people already affected with diphtheria by neutralizing the toxins of the deadly bacteria.

"We are working with partners to ensure that clinical guidance is available to health workers and that there are enough beds and medicines for those who get sick. But the only way to control this outbreak is to protect people, particularly children, through vaccination," said Navaratnasamy.